You might think, “Seen one ruin, seen them all,” and in truth, they all really are just a pile of rubble. But there’s something compelling about walking among the ruins; spend a little time there, and you begin to imagine life as it was a thousand years ago. Villages were filled with hundreds of people going about their daily lives in a desert environment that was brutally cold in the winter, equally hot in the summer, and with little water. Despite the harsh environment, they created a complex, elegant civilization infused by a nature-based spirituality.
The ancestral Puebloans built dams and catch basins to utilize desert springs for growing corn, beans, and squash; gathered wild plants; hunted rabbits, squirrels, and deer; and domesticated dogs and turkeys as pets. They wove clothing of vegetal fibers and animal hair; made robes of turkey feathers; fashioned sandals of yucca; and crafted jewelry of bone, shell, and turquoise. They plaited gorgeous baskets and created beautifully decorated pottery for carrying water, cooking, and storing food.
Women spent hours every day grinding corn on stone metates with stone manos; I tried it for five minutes at the Anasazi Heritage Center and I tell you, it would take a long time to grind enough cornmeal for a tortilla.
With no metal, all of their implements were made from stone, bone, and wood. It’s astounding that armed with such limited tools, they were able to build stone structures that have withstood the intensity of the desert climate for ten centuries. Although nearby Mesa Verde is better known, archeologists regard the masonry at Hovenweep as more refined. The stone structures are not only functional but also beautiful in their attention to detail.
The weather was wild the entire time we were in the area: gale-like winds, hit-and-run thunderstorms, and blazingly hot moments followed by freezing rains. This is a fascinating place. We’ll definitely return.