Staying in the Dolores/Cortez area of Southern Colorado gave us a great opportunity to explore the Trail of the Ancients in Utah and Colorado. We took a second day to explore three sites very close to our campground in Dolores. Hovenweep, Lowry Pueblo and the Anasazi Heritage Center are all partially reconstructed ruins of the Anasazi, otherwise known as the “Ancient Puebloans”. If you love ancient history, you don’t need to go to Mexico or Peru to seem some classic examples. (Although Mexico and Peru are both worth a trip, if you can get there!)
The map below shows the three sites, all within an easy drive of Dolores. In fact if you start with the Anasazi Heritage Center, there is a great map there that directs you to many sites in the area.
The Anasazi Heritage Center
This is a great place to start as you explore the four corners area in search of the Anasazi, or Ancient Puebloan, historical sites. The excellent museum has a replica of an early Basketmaker home and artifacts from that period that were found in the area.
Outside on the grounds, is a well-groomed trail up the hill to Pueblo II-III level ruins called the Escalante Pueblo. This was a multi-story pueblo with at least 20 rooms and a great kiva. The view from this hill over McPhee reservoir is quite spectacular.
A smaller site, located in front of the Heritage Center Museum, is called the Dominguez Pueblo. It is dated as a late Basketmaker site. Very interesting!
This is actually a very large park that contains six different villages. Most of them require a bit of a hike to see. However, there is one village, called the Square Tower Group, right at the visitor center that you can walk to easily. Part of that trail is wheelchair accessible as well. There is a small campground in the area, managed by the National Parks.
Although there is some evidence of construction here during the Pueblo II era, about 900 AD, major construction occurred about the same time as that of Mesa Verde, around 1100 AD. Some of the buildings are two to three stories high. These higher buildings were probably built around 1160 AD.
The area was abandoned by about 1300 AD, as was much of the area.
This site is unusual because two different cultures are visible here. Early construction is very similar to the style found at Chaco Canyon, more than 150 miles south. Later additions are more like the nearby Mesa Verde construction.
The pueblo had at least 40 rooms and 8 kivas. It probably housed about 100 people. It is considered a “mid-sized” pueblo, larger than the individual unit-houses scattered throughout the area, but smaller than the large constructions at Mesa Verde and elsewhere.
We started the route at the Anasazi Heritage Center, conveniently located near our RV Park in Dolores. The museum and exploration of the ruins took about two hours. The walk up to the ruins was less than a mile but it was a bit warm that day!
Both the Hovenweep and Lowry sites are on minor roads that are “mostly” paved. It is pretty country, but do not expect to drive more than 40 mph! There are many opportunities to hike to sites in the Hovenweep park, but the primary site is at the Visitor’s Center and quite easy to walk to. Lowry Ruins are very easy to get to from the parking lot.
As with any hiking in this arid country, bring water!
So have you explored some of these sites? Which are your favorites? Which have we missed? We always save some for next time!