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Matthew and Teneille (our son and daughter-in-law) gave us a picture book for Christmas entitled Off the Beaten Path which state-by-state highlights little-known sights to see. One of the entries for Utah is a place called Hovenweep National Monument – a place neither of us had ever heard of but since we were in the neighborhood (southeast corner of Utah) we decided to give it a look.

The turnoff from UT191 for Hovenweep is an inconspicuous, faded, brown sign that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Once we turned, the spacious pavement of Highway 191 quickly narrowed down to a thin layer of patched and re patched asphalt from which the yellow dotted line had long since faded. A small sign announced that it would be a 28-mile journey to Hovenweep. The road bounced and snaked through several washes then rose up several hundred feet to a sage-covered plateau which for many miles showed no sign of human habitation.

After what seemed at least ten miles of travel we came to a sign that informed us that Hovenweep was another 22 miles ahead. Could the highway department be playing games with us? we both wondered (28-10=22????.)

Thirty minutes into the drive we had met only a single vehicle. We began to have second thoughts about this Hovenweep place. Was it worth seeing? Would it be open? Would the trailer get mired in mud? Did it really exist? That old TV show, The Twilight Zone, in which weird things happen to unsuspecting people, crossed my mind, with us as the unsuspecting couple and Hovenweep as some chimera where weird stuff happens.

We eventually did see a few houses. They seemed to be arranged as a compound and, this being polygamy country, we wondered if some “Big Love” might be going on inside those walls. When we shortly passed two guys with foot-long grey beards talking by their pickups along the roadside we had our proof.

When at last we turned in to the Visitor Center at Hovenweep there was only one car in the parking lot. It was with suspicion in my eyes that I opened the Visitor Center door and peered around. A normal looking human dressed in a Park Service uniform stood behind the counter. He was the only person in the room. A brief conversation about the monument’s facilities was sufficient to satisfy me that the likelihood of an ambush by aliens was minimal (hey, those aliens are tricky!)

But after all our misgivings, the campground turned out to be a very nice campground. Of course, there were only two other campers in the campground but they looked human. And the monument is spectacular! Take a look at these photos:

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I would have guessed Hovenweep is a Dutch town (“Ja, they make good cheese over in Hovenweep.”)  Actually, Hovenweep is a Paiute word meaning “deserted valley.” Archeologists have determined that about 800 years ago this area was inhabited by a community of several hundred Indians that left behind these impressive examples of stone masonry.

It amazes me that this place isn’t more well-known.

We did an 8-mile hike today to another village ruin that is even more impressive than the one near the Visitor Center. Even the hike over there was unique. At the beginning and the end the trail passes through long (50-ft,) narrow slots in enormous boulders that are barely wide enough for a normal person to squeeze through (sign suggestion: NO FAT HIKERS)

P1030275.JPGMARY IN THE SLOT

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Most amazing to me is that these buildings have withstood 800 years of weathering. The mortar between the stones appears to be nothing more than mud. Look at the base of the tower built on that boulder. Those base stones are somehow “glued” to a steeply-angled surface. Beats me how they did that without Thin-Set. And most of these structures are built atop enormous boulders that have separated from the hillside. The sheer size of those boulders in that setting brought to mind that line from Genesis: “And in those days there were giants in the earth.” I would add “and talented stone masons too.”

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