Lowry Pueblo

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LOWRY PUEBLO

Lowry Pueblo aerial viewLOCATION: 27 miles northwest of Cortez, Colorado. Visit the Anasazi Heritage Center for a detailed map.

DESCRIPTION: Named after early homesteader George Lowry, it was constructed about AD 1060 on top of abandoned pithouses from an earlier period of occupation. Its 40-100 inhabitants were farmers who also hunted small game, made elaborately decorated pottery, and wove cotton obtained by trade.

Lowry Pueblo was excavated during summer field seasons (1930-1934) by Paul S. Martin of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

(See the Field Museum's web page on Lowry Pueblo.)

The surrounding landscape includes smaller, unexcavated hamlets which probably belonged to the greater Lowry community. Lowry Pueblo was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967, and now is a part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.


Lowry Floor Plan, adapted from Martin 1934, Field Museum.

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Great House

SPECIAL FEATURES: Lowry Pueblo's most visible components are its Great House and Great Kiva.  Like most Puebloan settlements, Lowry includes a number of kivas-- round, subterranean rooms used for both domestic and ceremonial activities.

The great house was a multi-story structure with a pre-planned, rectangular layout. Its rooms are larger, on average, than those found in "local" Puebloan architecture. Great house architecture is characteristic of the Chaco culture, which was centered in northwest New Mexico about 100 miles south of Lowry. Its outer walls are constructed in the Chaco style with double layers of stone blocks, alternating with bands of smaller stones, enclosing a core of rubble fill. Lowry is among the northernmost "Chacoan" communities, which may have formed an interdependent network spread thinly across the eastern half of the Ancestral Pueblo homeland.

Great Kiva in the winterThe great kiva is several times larger than the other kivas (all of which are inside the great house) and it probably served special purposes. It may have been a gathering place for the people who lived in the surrounding hamlets.


Permits, Fees, Limitations: No fee. Open during daylight hours. Camping is not allowed at the Lowry site.  

Accessibility: The parking lot is gravel. The adjacent picnic area, restroom, and paved quarter-mile trail are all wheelchair-accessible.  

Camping and Lodging: Camping is not allowed at Lowry Pueblo, but dispersed camping is allowed in most parts of the National Monument. Lodging is available in Cortez and Dolores.

Food and Supplies: Food and supplies are available in Cortez and Dolores.  

First Aid: No first aid is available on-site. The nearest hospital is in Cortez. First aid and a phone are available in Pleasant View (18 miles north of Cortez on U.S. Highway 666).  

Additional Information: A salvaged mural fragment from Lowry Pueblo is displayed at the Anasazi Heritage Center on State Highway 184, 3 miles west of Dolores. In 2004 Lowry Pueblo received a new shelter structure to protect the most delicate part of the main building from the elements.


Kiva Murals at Lowry Pueblo

Many of the great house rooms were probably plastered inside, and kiva walls were painted with bold geometric designs.

Painted kiva, first excavation, 1932. Field Museum #75656Initial excavations led by Paul Martin for the Field Museum in the 1930s revealed one kiva (Kiva B) with an exceptionally well-preserved mural, and the kiva was backfilled to preserve it. Before backfilling, a portion of the mural in Kiva B was shellacked.

SAVING THE MURALS: In response to public demand to make Lowry's features more visible, the pueblo and its kivas were re-excavated in 1965. The previously-shellacked mural section showed more deterioration than the portion which had been left untouched. Once exposed to the elements, the mural deteriorated rapidly. Several attempts at stabilization failed to slow the process of disintegration. 

Almost none of the mural survives today, except for a salvaged fragment currently on display at the Anasazi Heritage Center. This reflects a tension inherent in public archaeology between preservation and interpretation: Noone can both display and preserve fragile cultural resources in perpetuity. Present technologies cannot preserve Puebloan murals in situ-- except by reburying them. Other interventions are of limited effectiveness, or they risk accelerating the deterioration. Such cases are all the more reason to visit with respect.