Chimney Rock: first season as a national monument

Staff Writer

The Chimney Rock 2013 season officially kicks off on May 15. This is the first year the archaeological site is operating as a National Monument.

With the new status as National Monument, volunteers and officials are expecting an influx in visitors from around the country.

This year, staff at the site will be testing out new tour times and lengths. Traditionally, tours have been two and a half hours long, held four times a day. This year, in order to accommodate larger groups, Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) volunteers are adding tours as well as changing tour length.

Morning tours will continue at two and a half hours long, with tours of both the upper and lower sections of the area, while tours beginning at noon will last an hour and a half. Visitors joining the shorter tours will explore the sites in the upper section only, however, they will have a chance to take self-guided tours in the lower loop. CRIA will eventually add more tour times.

A new reservation system is being implemented. At this time, there is no specified date for completion. CRIA volunteers are hoping to have the site up and working by the second Full Moon Program. Participation in all special events will be through reservation only.

The Full Moon Program can attract up to 150 visitors. With the new reservation system, the public will be able to go online and book visits from the convenience of their hotel room or home.

“I think it will be a lot nicer for the customer,” CRIA Administrative Director Danyelle Leentjes explained. “This is a year of transition for us and our go-to word is ‘flexibility.’ We’re trying to be flexible for what we think is going to be an increase in visitors. We just ask that everyone be patient with us because we’re going to be adding more things.”

At this time, CRIA volunteers have no estimate of the number of people who will visit Chimney Rock this year. In previous years, the park has seen up to 12,000 visitors a year, with 8,000 of those visitors touring during the normal season. It is expected this will be a transitional year for the park. According to Pagosa District Archaeologist Wendy Sutton, when sites such as Chimney Rock become national monuments, the visitor population sharply increases. After a couple of years, the numbers will still be higher than before national monument status, however, they will then level off to a new normal number of visitors.

According to Sutton, it is not expected that the numbers will double.

Chimney Rock National Monument does not have a campground. Instead, visitors can find lodging in Pagosa Springs. With the new reservation site, Chimney Rock will be listed among other National Monuments, such as the Grand Canyon and Little Bighorn Battlefield.

“I think we’re going to get an increase just from being on that site,” Leentjes explained.

“It’s getting off and running,” Sutton explained, “We’ve had a number of school groups out there before it opens. There has already been a lot of increase in schools this year which is a good indication of an increase in interest this year. The Interpretive Association is doing a really good job of getting tickets online, which should release some congestion.”

Annual and monthly programs at Chimney Rock National Monument are as follows:

• Visions of Chimney Rock. For a second year, Chimney Rock will offer a free program that focuses on educating the public about the Chimney Rock National Monument. Every third Sunday, starting in June, families will be able to enjoy hands-on activities reflecting how the ancient Puebloans lived — activities such as basket weaving and grinding corn. This experience does not include any tours or walking. It is a way to educate members of the younger generation, so they can carry the torch as stewards at Chimney Rock National Monument.

The program is free and event arrival is at 4:30 p.m. in the upper parking area. the program ends at 6:30. While there is some seating available, guests are asked to bring chairs. Space is limited to 25 people and reservations are required.

• Full Moon Program. This event gives visitors an opportunity to watch the full moon rise at the Great House Pueblo Site. Visitors learn about the Ancestral Puebloans and archaeoastronomy theories, and will be able to enjoy Native American flute melodies performed by Charles Martinez.

The program is three hours long and is not recommended for children under the age of 12. The first Full Moon Program is May 25, starting at 8 p.m., with gates closing at 7:15.

• Moon Viewing Program. This event allows visitors who attend the Full Moon Program to view the surface of the moon with telescopes provided by Chimney Rock staff. Included in the moon viewing is an educational lecture.

• Local Appreciation Days at Chimney Rock are May 24-27. Residents have the opportunity to enjoy half-price tours all weekend long.

• Night Sky Archaeoastronomy Program: This includes a one-hour astronomy demonstration at the Visitor Center, as well as a one and a half hour night sky viewing opportunity, using telescopes.

• Summer Solstice Sunrise Program: On June 21, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, visitors are able to watch the sun rise over the San Juans and discuss how the ancients may have lived and celebrated the solstice. The event lasts two to three hours and begins at the Sun Tower. Sunrise is at approximately 5:48 a.m.

• Life at Chimney Rock Festival: On July 29 and 30, visitors will enjoy interactive demonstrations of crafts and skills of Ancestral Puebloan culture as well as regional Native American cultures, including Atlatl use, basket weaving, flint knapping, flute making and playing, grinding grain, pottery making, fiber spinning and yucca pounding. The festival is free to the public and will be held at the Visitor Center parking lot. No reservations are required.

•Autumnal Equinox Sunrise Program: On Sept. 22, the first day of autumn, visitors will have the opportunity to watch the sun rise over the San Juans and discuss the lifestyle of the Ancient Puebloans.

Dates, times and ticket prices for events vary. Visit for more information. Reservations for events can be made at

This story was posted on May 9, 2013.