President Obama urged to use Antiquities Act to designate SW Colorado’s Chimney Rock as national monument

Chimney Rock, Colorado.

New study shows designation could significant economic benefits for the region

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite early bipartisan support, a bill to designate southwest Colorado’s Chimney Rock as a national monument appears to be stuck in pre-election political gridlock.

Chimney Rock, between Pagosa Springs and Durango, likely was an important settlement and spiritual site in the Chacoan culture.

With local community support for the designation, as well a new report showing the economic benefits of the designation, Democratic Colorado senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, along with Republican Representative Scott Tipton, are asking President Obama to make the designation under the Antiquities Act.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s report underlines that making the Chimney Rock Archaeological site a national monument would create jobs and provide an economic boost for southwest Colorado,” Udall said.

The report shows the designation for the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area would double the economic impact Chimney Rock has on the region, bringing an additional $1.2 million to the area.

“In April, I joined Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton in asking President Barack Obama to protect Chimney Rock as a national monument and had a chance to visit the area in May. I hope the results of this study pave the way for national monument designation, so tourists will have yet another reason to visit the beautiful state of Colorado.”

“The local community overwhelmingly supports the designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument,” Bennet said. “With political gridlock slowing the pace of Congress, I have urged the president to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Chimney Rock a national monument. Today’s study makes clear that a monument designation would be a boost for Colorado’s tourism at a critical time, drawing more visitors to the region and the state and bringing more dollars into the local economy.”

Last Congress, the Senate bill was passed out of committee in a bipartisan vote.  It’s passage was subsequently blocked on the Senate floor by a minority of senators.

In April, Bennet, Udall and Tipton sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to begin a dialogue with the local community to explore all options to give the Chimney Rock archeological site the recognition and protection it deserves, including presidential declaration. The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the president the authority to proclaim, by executive order, sites of historical significance as national monuments, garnering protection.

Chimney Rock, located on San Juan National Forest land west of Pagosa Springs in southwest Colorado’s Archuleta County, is one of the most significant historical sites managed by the U.S. Forest Service.


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.

Take a photo tour, and learn more about Chimney Rock here.



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