Hovenweep Horseshoe/Hackberry Ruins

Round Trip Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5444 - 5520 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Horseshoe/Hackberry Group
Fee: none
Attractions: Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

The Horseshoe and Hackberry group of ruins are located in the Hovenweep National Monument in southwestern Colorado. Hovenweep National Monument is comprised of 6 discontiguous acreages that protect groups of ancestral Puebloan ruins. Each group of ruins are ensconced near canyon rims where remarkable masonry skills were used to contour the structures to the irregular shapes of boulders and recesses in the rocks. Hovenweep is a Ute word that means 'deserted valley' which aptly describes the surrounding area with all the villages of ghostly ruins.

Before attempting to visit the Horseshoe/Hackberry sites it is best to begin at either the Hovenweep Visitor Center or the Anasazi Heritage Center and pick up a map and brochures. A map can also be printed from the Hovenweep website before leaving home. The turnoff on CO 10 that leads to the trailhead isn't well marked. As you can see from the map the turnoff is about 4 miles east of the Hovenweep Visitor Center and 4.5 miles west of the Painted Hand/Cutthroat Castle turnoff. If you are coming from the east and you get to the Utah/Colorado border then you have gone about .6 miles too far. After turning onto the dirt road it is about 1 mile to the trailhead. The dirt road should be passable by passenger car during dry weather as far as the Horseshoe/Hackberry trailhead but it is much rougher beyond that point to the Holly Group.

The trail is well marked and easy to follow. If you missed getting a trail brochure at the Visitor Center you may be able to pick one up at the register near the trailhead.

Before reaching the first ruin the trail drops down into a little wash and climbs back out the other side. This broken section of rock is probably the only real obstacle, albeit small one, on the hike.

Horseshoe Tower is the first ruin along the trail. The tower sits right on the rim of Horseshoe Canyon. The brochure mentions that the tower was once walled off from the canyon giving it the appearance of being a defensive structure. Towers may have served many purposes besides lookouts including astronomical viewpoints and for line of site communications with other sites.

The next ruin on the trail is Horseshoe House which is composed of 4 adjoining structures that when viewed together give the ruin a horseshoe shape. The brochure draws your attention to the precisely hewn stones that were used to build the walls. It mentions that water for the mortar came from seeps within the canyon. There are also oral histories that tell of preparing the stones and mortar mixture and setting them aside while waiting for rainstorms when they would hurry about to collect all the water they could. Pots have been found intact that were capable of holding up to 30 gallons of water.

There is another ruin secluded in an alcove beneath Horseshoe House. It is hard to get a good look at it from the chained off area but parts of it are visible from above.

The trail leads from the Horseshoe House over a small rise to the Hackberry site roughly 500 yards, or just over 1/4 mile, away. There is another dirt road that also leads to the Hackberry site but it is much easier just to walk over from the Horseshoe group rather than to deal with yet another dirt road.

Most of the Hackberry ruins are piles of rubble with a few wall segments still standing. Hackberry Canyon is thought to have been one of the most densely populated canyons because it generally has more water coming from its seeps.

One wall that is close to the trail shows the heavy use of small chinking stones.

If there were only one set of ruins in all of the southwest for archaeologists to study there would surely be very little known about the ancient inhabitants. Fortunately there are thousands of these sites to visit and study and when taken as a whole the small tidbits of information derived from each individual location help to expand the overall understanding of the ancestral Puebloans. The Horseshoe and Hackberry sites add to the pot of information their architecture styles, farming techniques, when they were inhabited and a rough estimate of the number of people living there. If you would like to see them for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.