Located in southwestern Colorado, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument contains great archeological interest. The monument encompasses 164,000 acres and surrounds three of the four separate sections of Hovenweep National Monument. This large tract of land was set aside to preserve and protect the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States, over 6,000 at last count. The sites showcase the dwellings and lifestyle of the Ancestral Puebloan and other Native American cultures that have called the area home for nearly 10,000 years.
The first people to settle the area, not just pass through on migratory journeys, were the Basketmakers. Though primarily hunter-gatherers, they also planted corn in the fertile valleys and excelled at basket making. In 750 AD, the culture moved from pit houses to pueblo style villages — the remains of which dot the southwestern U.S. today. During this time, they also developed dozens of styles of pottery, as well as extensive farming techniques including advances irrigation techniques.
Population growth, soil exhaustion and weather changes most like drove these people to migrate south, east and west, where their descendants (Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and many other Native American tribes) still live today.
The monument is located 9 miles west of Pleasant View, Colorado in southwestern Colorado. Roads through the monument are few and rough, so the best places to capture the feel of the places in at the Anasazi Heritage Center, a combination museum, visitor’s center and gift shop. The Trail of the Ancients Byway starts here. There are interactive exhibits and an interpretative trail to help you learn the history and heritage of the area.
If you have more time, visit Lowry Pueblo National Historic Landmark, a 40 room partially restored pueblo dwelling with eight kivas and a great kiva (ceremonial sites). If you have a full day to spend in the monument, another wonderful place to visit is Painted Hand Pueblo. This is a beautiful standing tower perched on a boulder. The site gets its name from pictographs of hands painted on a boulder.
If you plan to strike out on your own and hike in the monument, please do not remove any artifacts from their locations. These sites are spiritually significant for Native Americans, so please treat them with respect. Take only pictures leave only footprints.