On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
On the Road will continue, but it will be forever Alain’s.
If not for the first photo, I might call this a study in blue from Albatrossity. I think my favorite is the snowmelt pools reflecting the turquoise sky. Probably not a surprise coming from someone who calls herself WaterGirl!
This is a two-part story about other ancient Puebloan sites that you might want to visit. The first is a place called Hovenweep; the second is a so-called Chacoan outlier site in southwestern Colorado.
The Ancestral Puebloan culture center in Chaco Canyon was not the only center of civilization in the southwestern US a millennia ago. There were others, including the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde (which most folks have heard about and even visited) as well as some which are less well known. Hovenweep, which lies on the border between southwestern Colorado and Southeastern Utah, is one of those.
The canyonlands at Hovenweep were peopled by hunters and farmers for millennia, but in mid 9th century AD these people started construction of larger permanent structures. Sometime between AD 1200 and 1300, they built some of the most amazing buildings of the time, multi-story towers of stone. Some are round, some are square, and all are built in sandstone canyons on very irregular sites. Some are right on the canyon edge.
The function(s) of these structures are a mystery; speculation has centered on defense, storage, celestial observation, ceremony, or perhaps all of the above. We might never know, since, like the Chacoans, the people who built these edifices fled to the current Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and the Colorado River basin in Arizona, after a series of devastating droughts at the end of the 13th Century. The Hopi and Zuni People, as well as all the Pueblo people of the Rio Grande Valley, are thought to be the descendants of the ancient architects of Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, and Chaco.
This is a square tower at Hovenweep, still standing after centuries of wear and tear in this hostile climate, perched directly on an irregular outcrop at the canyon edge.
Snowmelt pools reflecting the turquoise sky at Hovenweep.
Hoarfrost on a plant that the Ancestral Puebloans never saw, the invasive tamerisk (aka tamarix, aka saltcedar). This plant was introduced for erosion control in the US in the 19th century, and has become a major problem sucking up the water and inhibiting the growth of native species. But on a winter morning it can be beautiful.
Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay is a common denizen of this high plateau, and a charming beggar.
The next four images are from a Chacoan outlier site in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, Chimney Rock. This is the highest elevation (7000 ft above sea level) Chacoan site, and perhaps the most distant from the cultural center at Chaco Canyon, A thousand years ago it was home to about 2000 people, with a typical Chaco great house, kivas, and granaries. But its real significance is as an astronomical observatory for an infrequent event, the lunar standstill, which occurs once every 18.6 years. We were there in 2007 for the last lunar standstill, when the full moon rises directly between two rock towers. Make plans now for the next one in 2025. Learn more here, in an essay written by my sweetie, Elizabeth Dodd, and published in Notre Dame Magazine. This place defies description, but if anyone can do that, it would be her. This is the view from the observatory site, and you can see the full moon just peeking into the notch between the two towers.
A closeup of the moonrise.
A Prairie Falcon on one of the towers. If you look at the wider angle image above, you might be able to spot him there as well.
Heading down the trail after the moonrise and looking back at the towers.