Four States in One Afternoon

After spending a few days at Canyon de Chelly on Navajo Nation Reservation lands, David and I moved our rig to Farmington, NM. This city will serve as our base to explore several places in the surrounding area and to catch up with our good friends, Glenn and Marsha, who live nearby. We have stayed in Farmington before but there were several places that we did not have enough time to visit so we set out to see them.

Four Corners National Monument is about an hour drive from where we were camped. This national monument marks the intersection of four states: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Located on Navajo Nation Reservation lands, it is a relatively isolated landmark so we were surprised when we encountered a long line of cars waiting to pay and enter the site. Admission fee is $8/adult and children are free. Four Corners National Monument is administered by the Navajo National Parks and Recreation Department so they do not honor the National Parks passes.

Originally, Native American people groups like the Ancestral Puebloans inhabited these high plateaus. When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, it became part of New Spain. After Mexico gained its independence and following the Mexican-American War, the United States took possession in 1848. By 1850, this vast region was divided into two territories: the Utah Territory and the New Mexico Territory. Fifteen years later and after much debate, it was subdivided into four sections with a central quadripoint. The efforts of both Chandler Robbins and Rollins J. Reeves established the exact location of the states’ borders. In 1931, for the opening of Four Corners National Monument, they placed a brass disc with the names of the four states on it and set it in granite. Today many tourists go there to stand on the disc and to be in all four states at once. We met people from all over the United States that had made the trek there to do just that.

Queue for Four Corner Picture

The central plaza is surrounded by flags and there are booths all around the interior of the monument. Many Navajo people sell handmade jewelry, carvings, and crafts there. Outside the plaza, you can also sample some Navajo foods.

Hovenweep National Monument is about a 45 minute drive from Four Corners National Monument. Hovenweep, like Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde, was part of a network of Ancestral Puebloan sites that extended from southern Nevada to Colorado. There was a lot of trade and communication between these communities. The Ancestral Puebloans are known for their black-on-white pottery and their ability to build impressive cliff dwellings.

Hovenweep National Monument works to preserve six villages that lie within a 20-mile radius. Built between 1230-1275 AD, these remaining structures demonstrate the Puebloans advanced masonry skills. Their multi-story towers and housing units are perched on top of large boulders along the canyon rim. It’s amazing to see both the housing units in the cliffs and the tall structures in the canyon and along the canyon rim.

The Ancient Puebloans abandoned Hovenweep not long after they build these impressive structures. In 1854, William D. Huntington “discovered” it. The Paiute and Ute indigenous groups knew of these ruins and called this canyon “Hovenweep” which means “the deserted canyon” and they thought it was haunted. They urged Huntington not to go there but he was not deterred. It was not until the early 1900s that ethnographers began to survey these ancient ruins and began to advocate for their preservation. In 1923, President Warren G. Harding designated this area as a national monument.

David and I started at the Visitor Center and, after discussion with the ranger, we decided to explore the Square Tower group, one of the six locations. It has the largest collection of buildings in Hovenweep. There is a two mile trail along the Little Ruin Canyon that provided a good overview of this community.

From the trail, we saw the Stronghold House which was accessed by climbing up the boulder using hand and toe holds chipped into the rock or via a ladder. It may have been used for defense purposes but the archaeologists are not certain of it use.

Tower Point provides a spectacular view up and down the canyon below. Under the rim embedded in the cliff walls are rooms where they stored corn, beans, and squash.

Hovenweep Castle has two D-shaped towers and was not the abode of kings or queens but rather farmers. It was built on the rim overlooking the two-story tall Square Tower. The structure sits atop a boulder and is the most photographed ruin in this monument.

Beside the Square Tower are the remnants of a kiva.

To the right of the tower and on the high canyon rim is Hovenweep House which was the center of the village complex. From this vantage point, you can see down the length of the canyon and out to the mountains in the distance.

The Twin Towers has 16 rooms. The two towers are set very close together and are different shapes: one is D-shaped and the other is an oval.

The trail drops 80 feet into the canyon which afforded us a totally different perspective of the Little Ruin Canyon. This trail was a nice hike that gave us the opportunity to step back in time and imagine what life was like for the Ancestral Puebloans. What was missing was the hustle and bustle of everyday life that would have been present as they performed daily chores, farmed the mesa tops, and built geometric structures using rock, wood, and mud for mortar.

The Ancestral Puebloans left Hovenweep and migrated to Arizona and New Mexico. Why they deserted this place is still an open question. Drought, conflict with other groups, lack of resources might have prompted them to relocate. There are still many unanswered questions about Hovenweep and its inhabitants.

We were glad that we took the time to visit some of what Hovenweep National Monument has to offer.

On our way back to Farmington, we passed through the southern part of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. There are many more Ancestral Puebloan ruins in there too. We only had time for a very brief stop there.

Visiting four states in one afternoon was quite an adventure.

3 thoughts on “Four States in One Afternoon

  1. You just HAVE to do the four corners if you are in the area. We visited a few years ago. For some reason, we arrived on a Spring day when there was not a line. I can imagine the line gets really, really long at the height of tourist season.

    My fondest memory of Farmington was having to buy four tires for our Jeep. I went in to Big O to get a leaky tire fixed and found out the tires were way past their prime. It was our anniversary, so the husband got four new tires as an anniversary present. 😉


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