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Slickrook potholes filled with rainwater, Hovenweep Campground (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Seeking Immortality, One Stone at a Time

Just before sundown on Friday, May 23, 2008, I arrived at Hovenweep National Monument, in Southeastern Utah.  On my afternoon journey from Aztec, New Mexico, it had rained intermittently and clouds now hid the setting sun.
 
With the visitor center already closed, I proceeded to the small but orderly campground about a quarter mile away.  Since that Friday marked the start of Memorial Day Weekend, I hoped that there would be at least one RV-sized campsite available.  To my surprise, there were two, including one that had no neighboring site and featured an unbroken view to the southeast. 
 
Twin Towers in morning sunlight, Hovenweep (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After some four-wheel-drive action in the mud, I was able to situate my nineteen-foot Pioneer travel trailer to take advantage of that spectacular view.  As if on cue from an unseen source, the cold rains came in earnest just as I finished my chores.  Cozy and contented, I settled in and listened to the rain as it refreshed the healthy Pinion Pine and Juniper forest around me.
 
In the morning, I walked to the visitor center, paid my user fees and returned to my campsite.  From there, I began my 1.5-mile hike into and around Little Ruin Canyon.  Before I departed, I observed the fresh rainwater in the nearby slickrock potholes and the red bloom of a nearby cactus.Cactus Flower, Hovenweep National Monument (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Since almost all Hovenweep visitors start at the visitor center and walk counterclockwise around the canyon, I started out in the opposite direction, hoping for some quiet time before the weekend tourists crowded these spectacular ruins.  Apparently having done something inexplicably right in a former life, I received my reward – I neither saw nor heard another living soul for the first half of my hike.
 
Close-up of Twin Towers, Hovenweep (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Ancestral Puebloan Indians built the characteristic tower ruins of Hovenweep in the period just before their final and complete withdrawal or disappearance from the Colorado Plateau and the Four Corners area.  The zenith of their construction here was between 1230 and 1275 CE.  At that time, an elder of their tribe could have witnessed or participated in the planning and building of all the ruins visible in Little Ruin Canyon.  Uniquely, these ruins include circular, square and D-shaped freestanding towers, all within shouting (and in some cases), whispering distance of each other.
 
The Author, with Hovenweep Castle in background (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Conventional wisdom, supported by relevant archeological facts indicates that Hovenweep, along with Mesa Verde in Colorado were among the final redoubts of this far-reaching culture.  Supposedly, chaos reined, as drought, overpopulation, deforestation and internecine warfare gripped their culture.  To me, that sounds like hogwash.  If the culture was in collapse and marauders roamed the land, how did the residents of Hovenweep have time to shape and radius stones for the exterior of their unique freestanding “Round Tower” and flat-faced stones for their unique freestanding “Square Tower”? 
 
My belief, supported only by my observations and the feel of the place is that Hovenweep represented the ancestral Puebloan’s high point of both architecture and civilization.  These towers stood out as their rock-solid achievements and their gift to those of us who come to visit this place over seven hundred years later. 
 
At the peak of Pharaonic Egypt, the high priests and elite of their culture endeavored to reach immortality, exemplified by their process of mummification, but also through their architecture, funerary masks and vessels.  After personally viewing several Egyptian museum road shows in my current lifetime, I would say that they “made it” to eternal life, or at least thus far.
 
I believe that the ancestral Puebloans of Hovenweep, who built a pantheon of sturdy, yet highly aesthetic granaries, ceremonial kivas and everyday houses, had something similar in mind.  Not having technology beyond what we call “stone age”, the ancestral Puebloans focused much of their energy on creating architecture that would outlive them and send those of us who follow a clear message.
 
The "Spirit" of Little Ruin Canyon, Hovenweep (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The message that they left for us was, “Judge us not by anything other than by what you see here.  Walk with us past our gardens; enjoy with us the solid nature of our former existence.  Then ask yourselves, did we abandon this place and travel south in search of water and peace?  Or did we simply do all that we could do in our many lifetimes here, then withdraw to be with Spirit, to rest, relax and plan our return, long after you, the current visitor are gone from this place?  If you stand quietly and stare at what your culture calls ruins, you may indeed see one or more of our spirits still inhabiting the temples in this canyon.”
 

Notable Quote

"...nothing feeds the soul as well as a good plate of beans."
     Brigham Young (1801-1877)