Calling Chimney Rock a “blessing to the entire nation,” U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton addressed those attending a public forum at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts Monday on “The Cultural and Economic Values of Chimney Rock as a National Monument.”
Despite the federal holiday and heavy snowfall, the forum was well attended by those in support of the recognition of Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as a National Monument.
Chimney Rock was recognized in 1970 as a San Juan National Forest Archeological Area and a National Historic Site. Chimney Rock is under the care and preservation of the Pagosa Ranger District, as well as volunteers with the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA).
For the past several years, there has been a push for Chimney Rock to receive the National Monument status. Now, there are two bills seeking National Monument status for the site. The House bill was introduced by Tipton, while Sen. Michael Bennet introduced S. 508. Action on the bills is expected in 2012.
Though Bennet could not attend Monday, John Whitney, southwest regional director for Bennet, read a statement by the Senator. “Chimney Rock is an incredible historical and cultural site that is still in search of a formal recognition worthy of its stature,” the letter states, continuing, “That is why I am honored to work together with the Trust for Historic Preservation, Crow Canyon Archeological Center, local government officials from Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County and several tribes in an effort to pass legislation to establish Chimney Rock as a National Monument.”
Dr. Mark Varien, chair of research and education at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, spoke to the cultural significance and the uniqueness of Chimney Rock in the world of archaeology.
“I don’t know anything like it, anywhere,” Varien said. He describes archaeology sites as, “remains left behind of individual actions of individual persons,” and, in this area of the Southwest, the density is significantly higher than elsewhere in the world. The period that can be studied is the Neolithic, a period which Varien said gives insight into the current state of humanity.
“Understanding the Neolithic period is important to understanding human culture,” Varien said.
According to Varien, nearly all cultures (99.9 percent) were shaped by the Neolithic transition; with the domestication of food production came an exponential population growth and, in turn, a drastic change in culture. Varien said that this shift is historically similar to only one other, that of the Industrial Revolution and the present time.
According to archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service Wendy Sutton, at Chimney Rock can be found the story of a people, the ancient Pueblos, and the evolution of a profession.
Professor Joseph Suina, another presenter, teaches at University of New Mexico and is a member and former governor of the Cochiti Pueblo. Suina explained that in the Southwest region, there are 22 Pueblos still active. This means that places such as Chimney Rock hold a strong connection to the past, a connection to spiritual practices that, in some instances, are still in effect today.
“The 22 Pueblos in the Southwest are the least changed tribes in US. Never broken connection and that’s probably for a very good reason, because it worked,” Suina said.
Some Native Americans, Suina said, might say let Chimney Rock decay, as is the natural process. However, he added that most now know that this is not how the world works; people will walk on that land and see it, thus care should be respectful and the status as a National Monument will help.
Chimney Rock, which is open to the public from May 15 to Sept. 30, receives approximately 12,000 visitors each year. The hope is that, with the designation as a National Monument, visitation not only at Chimney Rock, but also Pagosa Springs will increase. Ed Morlan, executive director for Region 9, presented studies on visitation patterns in the area done by research firm RRC Associates in 2008. According the study, 28 percent of Pagosa visitors go to Chimney Rock, and 22 percent of those return to visit a second time.
Morlan said that, with National Monument status at Chimney Rock, slow growth can be expected that will improve the economics of the Pagosa area.
As a National Monument, Chimney Rock would include around 5,000 acres run by the U.S. Forest Service. Though it is not known if the status would significantly increase tourism or research, it would improve the notoriety of Chimney Rock. As far as research, Varien said that the status alone would not make it more appealing to archaeologists, but it would help with long-term planning. Joan Ward, president of the CRIA board, said she hopes that the status would help in recruiting and retaining volunteers.