I predict that this will be another of our favorite sites this year for the following reasons: 1) it allows dogs on park trails unlike most other national parks and monuments (maybe because domesticated dogs lived here in 1200 AD?); 2) it falls within the dark sky reserve; 3) it is a precious, small site that receives only day visitors so the campground was empty; 4) it is easy to get close to the towers without having to schedule a ranger led tour; and 5) it showcases an unresolved demographic mystery.
The Ancestral Puebloans (no longer called Anaszazi, as that is a Navajo word that means “enemy”) throughout the Colorado Plateau, commenced a building frenzy of masonry towers, and unit type houses with kivas, in 1200 AD. Only 20 years after completion, the residents began to leave the sites for residence in the South, until all sites were all abandoned by 1300 AD. Later tribes respected the dead buried in these sacred sites and avoided them. They remained undisturbed until gold prospectors entered the area. Fortunately, at Hovenweep and Mesa Verde, the sites remain well preserved. The are made from beautiful masonry. Stones were cut into blocks using harder Navajo Sandstone tools, small stones were “chinked” between the gaps, and mortar made from soil, imported mud from the mesa, and water (or urine if water was in short supply) created both tall structures on the rim and cascading down into the canyon.
A truly unique structure is, “Boulder House”, which incorporates the huge rock under which it sits as part of its’ roof and walls. In the photo above it looks like Darth Vadar’s head or a motorcycle helmet.
The canyon floor was warmer than the mesa and was used to grow corn, about the size of a forefinger, and easy to store in dry masonry granaries. Water was stored in catchdams in streams on the mesa at the head of the canyon, but having adequate water in this very dry site was cleary an issue, even for this small community of about 150 people. What is noteworthy in solving the two-fold mystery, why the Ancestral Puebloans built these towers, and why they abandoned them all within 100 years, is that all towers are within line-sight view of another tower, allowing communication, even at night using fire as a signal. Were these towers built for defense, and if so, to defend against what danger? Perhaps the 50 year drought preceding the building frenzy and the 23 year drought commencing the time when the towers were being abandoned are clues to solve the mystery. Mesa Verde, another Ancestral Puebloan site yields more evidence to answer these questions.