A Lonely Place

We left House On Fire before noon and continued south, towards Monument Valley and Kayenta. Our trip was winding down and maybe we bit off too much on this day, but Hovenweep National Monument was on the list and so we were soon bouncing over a secondary highway in pursuit of more ancient stone structures.

What impressed me on the drive to Hovenweep was how distant it seemed from everything, how isolated. The rocky landscape eventually gave way to patchy grasslands, whipped by gusty west winds. I avoided the largest potholes en route, one eye on the road and the other noting the oil pumps, water tanks and spare ranch houses that appeared briefly, their painted surfaces naturally sand-blasted to pastel shades, and then we rounded a sharp corner and I braked for the visitors center.

The Little Ruin Canyon Trail takes off from the center, and with a serious storm approaching we set off on the short loop walk around the canyon rim. Unlike the ruins at House On Fire, these are protected, roped off by metal chains and posted with reminders to look but don’t touch.

We finished our short survey of ruins just as fat raindrops began to hit the pavement. Lightning flared over the nearby Sleeping Ute Mountain. Any remaining daylight was quickly siphoned from the sky as we bucked a stiff side-wind back to the main highway. I learned later that Hovenweep is a Ute/Paiute word meaning “deserted valley,” and was first used there by pioneering photographer William H. Jackson, on a visit in 1874.

I’ve no doubt he felt the same sense of loneliness we felt as the day ended in the rainy darkness.


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