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Hovenweep National Monument was created in 1923 under President Warren G. Harding and is recognized as significant for its large concentration of freestanding masonry towers, among the highest in the American Southwest. The clusters of villages comprising the greater Hovenweep settlement were built in the Pueblo III period (1100 to 1300 AD), echoing the single-family and “suburban” pueblos found in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde during the same era. These large social units are reflected in the multi-room and multi-story structures grouped around springs in canyon heads, and the remaining structures suggest that at its height Hovenweep supported around twenty-five hundred people.


Each cluster of buildings included multiple towers, multiple kivas, and at least one horseshoe-shaped structure, which was probably similar in function to the ceremonial great kivas found elsewhere within the region. Water was carefully controlled using a series of rim dams to concentrate water runoff and keep the natural springs at each canyon head running, helping to support the population of the region through agriculture on the mesa tops. By the Pueblo IV period, the Hovenweep Puebloans left the area, following their contemporaries throughout the San Juan River Valley and moving south to the Rio Grande and Little Colorado Regions in an event known as the Great Migration.

  image of Square Tower
Holly Tower and support rock, October 2012.
square tower group

The largest cluster of settlements within Hovenweep was the Square Tower Group located in Little Ruin Canyon. This area was most likely the ceremonial center for the region, and could have provided water to five or six hundred people via the spring located at the head of the canyon. Each year, visitors come by the thousands to see the outstanding and resilient masonry walls perched precariously along the canyon edge and on various rock formations throughout Little Ruin Canyon.


  image of Square Tower
holly group Square Tower Group: clockwise from left: Twin Towers, Rimrock House, and Eroded Boulder House, August 2012.

Holly Group is a cluster of buildings located in Keeley Canyon, a two-mile walk from the Square Tower Group. Holly Group consists of four masonry towers built around a canyon head, one horseshoe-shaped ceremonial tower, multiple kiva depressions, and Holly Tower, a large two-story tower built on a rock formation in the center of the canyon. Holly Tower is constructed of hand-pecked sandstone masonry and mud mortar, much like its contemporaneous structures in Holly Group. It is unique, however, in its multiple loopholes angled to view all locations surrounding its perimeter. The outstanding masonry construction at Holly Tower is relatively unique across Hovenweep, especially as compared to Square Tower which has an inherent lack of interlocking bonding among its stones. In 1937 James Brewer declared Holly Tower as “perhaps the most impressive of the Hovenweep ruins.”

  image of Square Tower
Holly Group: from left: Holly Tower, Tilted House, Boulder House, October 2012.