Photographing Hovenweep National Monument – SE Utah
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Hovenweep National Monument – Hovenweep Castle – Hidden away on an isolated sage covered mesa in SE Utah is a collection of ancient ruins teetering on a canyon rim that have stood the test of time. This region is also known as the Four Corners, which is where the states of UT, AZ, CO and NM meet.
This area is ripe with ancient ruins and history; I call it “The Land of the Ancients”. The Anasazi once inhabited these well-built stone towers and D-shaped houses. Anasazi is a Navajo (Dine’) word meaning “Ancient Ancestors” or “Ancient Enemies” and Hovenweep is a Ute word meaning “Deserted Valley”. Some prefer to use the more politically correct term “Ancestral Puebloans” which has become a more common term for the people that inhabited these dwellings years ago. This mysterious and magical place is a must see on your photo tour of the Colorado Plateau.
On my 1st trip to Hovenweep years ago I arrived in the early afternoon to get a feel for the area and see where and when the light was going to be the best since I had not been here before. Arriving early also helped me to get a real sense of the area and imagine what it must have been like some 700 years ago when the “Ancient Ancestors” made this area their home. There is an ancient silence here that called forth a reverence in me for the past and for this high desert plateau that holds so much history. I have studied much about these ancient people and their dwellings throughout this area as well as photographed many of the sites and I am continually fascinated. I find that the more that I know about the subject or place that I’m shooting the better the images seem to be. It is also fun to know about these places as it makes for a richer photo experience.
There are many ruins to photograph here at Hovenweep National Monument and after surveying the canyon and seeing which ruin would be the most dramatic with the late afternoon light, I chose Hovenweep Castle. This is the structure that I had seen many times in photographs and it also happens to be the grandest ruin in this group, so why not go for the gusto. Hovenweep Castle was built around 1200 AD and was home to several families as archaeological evidence suggests. There is an EASY self-guided trail will take you around the rim of the canyon, there is a short trail that is .5 miles long and the longer trail is 1.5 miles long. You can pick up a detailed trail map at the Visitors Center that will give a short history and explanation of each ruin that you will pass on the trail. Step cautiously as you tour the ruins, you will be walking along the canyon rim and one misstep could be dangerous. Be sure to drink and carry plenty of water as the low humidity of the high desert can result in dehydration.
I gathered my camera gear and tripod and headed down the trail to Hovenweep Castle, which is the 1st ruin that you come to on the trail. I positioned myself at the spot where I was going to shoot and waited for the October sun to sink low in the sky. I positioned myself on the NW side of the ruin atop a big slab of slick rock.
Laying on the rock with my tripod legs at their shortest setting, I shot verticals with the slick rock in the foreground and ‘the castle’ in the background. The low angle of my camera coupled with my wide-angle lens gave a very interesting view of this castle. The low angle also helped to naturally crop out any distracting details that might have been in the background. Another great shot is from across the canyon with a long lens, you can capture Hovenweep Castle with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background and if the mountain happens to have a dusting of snow on it, all the better.
Be sure not to get too far off of the trail when you shoot your photos, it is tempting, but it is also tempting to want to preserve this area for others to enjoy. There is a sign as you start on the trail that says “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”, keep that in mind. Please help preserve these 700-year-old structures by remaining on marked trails, not entering the dwellings or leaning on any walls, they are original, have not been rebuilt and are extremely fragile.
I shot at Hovenweep in the early fall and the weather was delightful. It can get very hot here in the summer and the crowds are heavier detracting from the overall peaceful atmosphere, so I suggest spring, fall or winter. This is one of those photo locations that will make you slow down and observe, smell the sage and juniper in the air and if you listen hard enough maybe you too can hear Kokopelli’s flute playing in the distance. Some say that they can see an ancient shadow dancing on the rock in the foreground of the wide angle photo that I shot – have a look, you might see it too. Enjoy the magic of The Land of the Ancients.
To get more info on Hovenweep NM and 10 more (1 BONUS location) of my TOP 10 Photo Locations in S Utah be sure to order your copy of my eGuide today – I will get you to the right place at the right time to get that photo that you have only been dreaming of! You can even download my eGuide to your iPhone, Android or Tablet. Also available is “Cheyenne’s Top 10 Photo Locations – New Mexico” – click HERE to order!
Happy shooting – Cheyenne