America's Best History Spotlight

On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Canyons of the Ancients, Colorado

Anasazi heritage abounds in the region of southwest Colorado and southeast Utah in various national monuments and sites. One such site, often overlooked as a new National Monument, to some oddly placed within the Bureau of Land Management and not the National Park Service, is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. But not to slight the Park Service, the BLM, or other agencies, the region also holds their jurisdiction as well, in the small, but spectacular ruins and petroglyphs of Hovenweep National Monument, and three Wildlife Study Areas, just north of both and back to BLM oversite. What you will witness here, is thousands of years of culture characterized on its rocks and land, and less visited than should be. For those that get the chance to wander around this part of the country, not far from Mesa Verde National Park, stop by all three areas, no matter who runs them, to wonder at the art, the land, the museums and visitor centers that tell the story. You'll likely be glad you did. Photo above: Grand kiva at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, 2016, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Info, What's There Now, History Nearby

Canyons of the Ancients

Canyons of the Ancients

Of course, the lands and sites of Canyons of the Ancients has been around a long time before its designation as a National Monument on June 9, 2000, but its relatively new classification, as well as BLM management, has kept it a bit under the radar. However, that's not to diminish its historic resources and nature among the 176,000 or so acres that basically surround its sister park, Hovenweep. The Ancestral Puebloan ruins here are spectacular, dated back to their arrival in the canyons in the 10th Century. There are six thousand structural remnants here (6,355 to be more exact), from Lowry Pueblo, Painted Hand Pueblo, and the remarkable Sand Canyon Pueblo, AD 1250, that had four hundred and twenty rooms, ninety kivas, and fourteen towers.

By the 14th Century, the Puebloan peoples had vacated the area, replaced by the descendents of the Navajo and Ute. Spanish colonists and missionaires would come later, from the 16th to the 18th century, with Anglo American Europeans in the early 19th century.

Today, Canyons of the Ancients, including the Wilderness Study Areas of Cross Canyon, Cahone Canyon, and Squaw/Papoose Canyon, can be visited under Bureau of Land Management supervision. They have a visitor center outside the park to the east, Anasazi Heritage Center and Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center, that includes a theater, exhibits, interpretive programs, and orientation. Ask at the Visitor Center about other recreation opportunities, including dispersed camping throughout the park, and where that is, or is not, allowed.

Photo above: Wall ruins at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, 2016, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Serpents Quarters Pueblo, Canyons of the Ancients, 2007, Lisa Lynch, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Canyon of the Ancients

Where Is It

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is located in southwest Colorado, ten miles west of Cortez, Colorado, and twelve miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. The Visitor Center is east of the park itself at 27501 CO-184, Dolores, CO 81323. Hovenweep National Monument has several units surrounded by Canyons of the Ancients, with its Visitor Center at another unit four miles over the border into southeast Utah off Hovenweep Road at Montezuma Creek, UT 84534. The three WSA units are all north of the main Canyons of the Ancients. Ask at either of the Visitor Centers about access.

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What is There Now

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has a variety of waypoints, historic sites, and trails within the 176,000 acres of the park. It has a Visitor Center and Museum east of the park in Dolores, Colorado.

Hovenweep National Monument is much smaller, with several units. The main unit, in Utah, includes a Visitor Center and Museum, with orientation and exhibits. It also has trails to its various heritage structures and sites, including the Square Tower Group. A developed campground with thirty-one sites is located near the Visitor Center.

When Open and How Much

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Visitor Center costs $3 adults from March to October. Under 17 and rest of the year free.

There is no charge for Hovenweep National Monument. Both parks are open year round, sunrise to sunset, with the Visitor Center at Hovenweep closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in winter.

Fees subject to change.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument

History Nearby

Well, there's Mesa Verde National Park only twelve miles to the east, as well as Aztec Ruins National Monument not far below that park in northern New Mexico. You're in the Four Corners region here, so National Park units such as Canyon de Chelly, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Natural Bridges National Monument are not too far afield. However, not too far afield, means a bit different mileage out in this part of the country. Check your favorite GPS or travel direction site for details on how far.

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