House passes bill to establish southern Colorado landmark with bipartisan support
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —Chimney Rock, a southwest Colorado landmark that once marked the ultimate outlier of the ancient Chaco culture, is one big step closer to gaining national monument status.
The U.S. House this week passed the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act with support from both sides of the aisle. The bill was introduced by Republican Congressman Scott Tipton, with a companion measure pending in the Senate, cosponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall.
“Today’s bipartisan House vote is an important step toward designating Chimney Rock as a national monument, and I applaud Congressman Tipton for his leadership,” Bennet said.
In 2008, Chimney Rock was listed by Colorado Preservation, Inc. as one of Colorado’s most threatened historic landmarks
The vote came just a couple of weeks after nearby Chaco Culture National Historic Park, in New Mexico, celebrated its 25th anniversary as a World Heritage site, an international designation that recognizes unique cultural values.
“Chimney Rock has incredible historical and cultural significance, and it has come to mean a great deal to Coloradans. National monument status will help preserve, protect, and restore the significance of this archaeological treasure,” Bennet said.
Bennet said a public meeting hosted by the U.S. Forest Service once again showed overwhelming community support for the designation, which could also help boost tourism in the rural area.
The designation would help protect historically significant structures at the site that, despite the best efforts of a local volunteer group, are deteriorating.
Chimney Rock is located West of Pagosa Springs in Colorado’s Archuleta County. The bill will designate 4,726 acres surrounding Chimney Rock Archeological Area as a National Monument. Chimney Rock will remain a unit of the San Juan National Forest, and Native American tribes will retain access to the sites for traditional and cultural uses.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Chimney Rock was an important spiritual site, where priests gathered to watch the moon rise between two pillars of rock.
About 1,000 years ago, ancestral Native Americans built more than 200 homes and ceremonial structures on the high mesa, west of present-day Pagosa Springs, more than 1,000 feet above arable land and water sources. Then, suddenly, in 1125 A.D. they abandoned the Chimney Rock settlement, perhaps subject to a mega-drought, or invasions by other tribes.
The placement of the ceremonial buildings at the site suggests that the builders had at least a basic understanding of astronomy on par with the historic Maya and Toltec cultures of Central America. Similarly, a complex “sun dagger” configuration at Chaco Canyon also shows that the Chacoan people were tracking an 18.6 year lunar cycle that sees the point of moonrise shift northward and southward along the horizon.
Based partly on that astronomical understanding, archaeologists speculate that the Chaco culture was somehow more closely tied to the historic Central American civilizations than to the Native American cultures of North America.
Today, the ruins at Chimney Rock still stand as a testament to design, planning and craftsmanship of the Ancient Puebloans, but despite the best efforts of a local volunteer group, they are starting to crumble.
Exposure to the elements are taking a toll on the irreplaceable structures. Most of the serious problems at the Great House, Great Kiva and the Ravine Site Habitation Complex are due to natural weathering and climate changes.
Unusually heavy monsoon rains in 2006 saturated soils, causing several walls to collapse, and while emergency stabilization has been completed, an overwhelming amount of work remains to be accomplished.