Top Anasazi Sites in the American Southwest

Fallen Roof Ruin - Cedar Mesa - Utah
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Who were the Anasazi?

Fallen Roof Ruin - Cedar Mesa - Utah

Fallen Roof Ruin – Cedar Mesa – Utah

The Anasazi (also known under the wider descriptor Ancestral Puebloans), were a culture of Native Americans that inhabited the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico from about 1 A.D. to 1300 A.D. However, depending on where you draw the line on what separates the Anasazi from earlier groups that inhabited the region, the start date may go back as far as 1500 B.C. The Anasazi are known best for their development of a sedentary lifestyle vs. the hunter/gatherer life of past groups. They engaged heavily in agriculture (growing beans, squash and corn), and developed monumental architecture to house their families, provide a defense against hostile neighbors, and to protect their food supply from rodents and other animals.

Research also suggests they were loosely related to other native cultural groups that inhabited the area during the same period, including the Fremont, Mogollon, and Hohokam. Modern Puebloan tribes, such as the Zuni, Hopi, Keres and Towa count these three four Ancestral Puebloans groups among their kin.

— Utah —

In Utah, the majority of Anasazi sites are found in the state’s southeast corner, reaching as far north as Canyonlands National Park, and to Glen Canyon Recreation Area in the west. Below are the sites of greatest interest.

Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch Region

This small corner of southeastern Utah, has arguably the highest concentration of Anasazi sites anywhere. They aren’t the massive multi-room structures one finds in Mesa Verde, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in number. Literally hundreds of dwellings, granaries, and rock art panels can be found by those willing to put in the time and effort to find them. And unlike Mesa Verde, you won’t experience the crowds, and amusement park feel. This is a wilderness area, with the solitude, risks, and surprising discoveries that brings.

For convenience sake I am including in this region, Comb Ridge, Dark Canyon, Bears Ears, Montezuma Canyon, Natural Bridges NM, and of course Grand Gulch. All of these geographic areas are in relatively close proximity to each other, with Cedar Mesa the geographic epicenter of the group.

Prominent ruins in the area include: Moon House, House on Fire, Dollhouse, Jailhouse, Fallen Roof Ruin, Tower House, the Citadel, River House, Target (Bulls Eye), Honeycomb and Monarch Cave.

Hovenweep

While there is evidence of occupation by Paleoindians and Archaic Indians going back to 8,000 B.C., much of what is found at Hovenweep today is the ruins of 6 different Anasazi villages, protected  under several disconnected park units straddling the Utah/Colorado Border east of Cedar Mesa.   These units include – Cajon, Cutthroat, Goodman Point, Holly, Hackberry and Horseshoe and Square Tower, with Square Tower containing the largest concentration of ruins, and the location of the park visitor center.

— Colorado —

Colorado’s Anasazi ruins are concentrated in the state’s southwest corner, in the counties of Dolores and Montezuma.

Mesa Verde

Located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, just outside Cortez, Mesa Verde was without a doubt one of the two crowning architectural achievements (the other being Chaco Canyon) of the Anasazi. Contained within a series of canyons, these ruins represent the largest and best preserved examples of ancient Native American buildings, north of the Mexican border. Mesa Verde was a major settlement area for the Anasazi Indians between 650 A.D. and 1285 A.D. Cliff Palace, the largest of the dwellings contained at its height 150 rooms and 23 kivas, and housed an estimated 100 people.

At least 6 other major ruins are located in the park, with dozens of other sites within the canyons as well as the mesa top. These include Balcony, Long, Mug, Oak Tree, Spruce Tree and Square Tower Houses.

Mesa Verde NP: Website
Google Maps: Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Canyons of the Ancients is similar to Cedar Mesa in its concentration of Anasazi ruins and wilderness character. Nearly 6000 archaeological sites have been recorded in the park, with 100 sites recorded per square mile in some locations. However most roads in the park are dirt, and there are very few trails or published details on minor ruins.

Prominent sites within the park include the Escalante and Dominguez Pueblos, located outside of Dolores, CO at the The Anasazi Heritage Center. The Pueblos are named after the Franciscan friars, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante that discovered them during the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776. The pueblos were constructed from 1120-1130 A.D.

Another major site in the park, known as Lowry Pueblo (official website), was constructed in 1060 A.D., contained 40 rooms and multiple kivas. It is believed that at any given time it housed between 40-100 people, over the course of a 165 years.

All three of these pueblos show similar construction to the pueblos found in Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico.

Chimney Rock National Monument

Chimeny Rock is an archaeological site in southwest Colorado. It is believed between 925-1125 A.D. it is believed as many as 2,000 ancient Pueblo Indians lived at the site. Housing approximately 2,000 ancient Pueblo Indians between A.D. 925 and 1125. One of the prominent features of the site  was the Great House Pueblo, which included two kivas, and 36 other rooms. Evidence suggests the Indians living at the site had linkages to the culture that built the Chaco Canyon site in central New Mexico.

 – Arizona –

Canyon De Chelly NM

Canyon de Chelly is a National Park wholly owned by and located within the Navajo Reservation. It is named after a particular canyon within the park but consists of three – de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. The canyon system is considered one the longest continuously inhabited locations in North America , mostly recently by the Navajo and Anasazi. Within the canyon are a number of visible Anasazi ruins, including White House, Antelope House and Sliding House. Of these three, park visitors can visit White House in the company of a Navajo guide.  In addition, over 2500 archaeological sites have been identified in the area, including dozens of Anasazi village sites.

Located in the Northeast corner of Arizona, it makes a good stop on a tour of other nearby archaeological sites, including Mesa Verde, Cedar Mesa and Chaco Canyon.

Google Maps – Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument is located in North Central Arizona near the town of Flagstaff. The park encloses archaeological sites from at least 3 distinct cultures, including the Cohonina, Kayenta Anasazi, and Sinagua. Wupatki Pueblo the ruin after which the monument is named is the oldest in the park and contained over 100 rooms. It also includes a ball court, a structure similar to those found in Mesoamerica, and suggestive of a link to tribes further south.

Google Maps – Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery

– New Mexico –

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Pueblo is a ruin of the ancient Anasazi that is over 900 year old and contained more than 400 rooms. the site also includes the largest reconstructed Kiva in the United States.  The ancient pueblo is located near the town of Aztec in northwest New Mexico near the town of Farmington in the Four Corners region.

Youtube: Virtual Tour of the Ruins

Chaco Canyon National Monument

Like Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon’s 15 major archaeological sites are a product of the Ancestral Puebloeans. Located south of Mesa Verde in northern New Mexico, it contained the largest buildings in the United States until the 19th century. The largest of these, Pueblo Bonito, covers 3 acres and contains close to 800 rooms. However archaeological, and climatic research suggests that Chaco may have been intended more as a  gathering place for religious ceremonies, than an attempt to build a large permanent settlement. The design and alignment of many of the buildings suggest that solar and lunar cycles played a significant role in their construction. This importance is mirrored in the petroglyphs found in the area, including famously those on Fajada Butte.

Another notable feature of the Chaco Canyon site is the network of roads that radiate from it across the San Juan Basin. The longest of these are the Great North and South Roads. Debate continues about other significant road segments in the area that are shorter and disconnected, that absent weathering over time, may have been connected in the past. Whatever the case, they hint both at the importance of Chaco Canyon, but also the significant effort that was required to bring materials from other area, like timber, to build the canyon’s monumental architecture.
Google Maps: Find
Flickr: Photo Gallery
Archeoastronomy of the Chacoan Pueblo (PDF)

El Morro National Monument

A nice, partially reconstructed Anasazi pueblo exists atop the large sandstone promontory that marks this national historic monument. The site is known most prominently for the oasis it offered to travelers (from ancient puebloans to early pioneers) over the centuries, and who left behind evidence of their passing via a variety of elaborate inscriptions carved into the rock face.  A 2 mile loop trail leaves from the parking lot at the monument,  up to the top of the mesa and back down.

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