|Before the Anglo settlers moved into the area, before the earliest Spanish and Mexican explorers ventured north, and before Ute and Navajo Native Americans roamed the mountains of southwest Colorado, a pre-Columbian Indian culture made their home in the mountains and valleys of and around the landmark sandstone towers of Chimney Rock.
The Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is a 4,100-acre site containing the remains of the Ancestral Puebloan People, formerly known by the Navajo word “Anasazi,” as well as evidence of other prehistoric and historic uses. The site was designated an Archaeological Area and National Historic Site in 1970.
As their name suggests, the Ancestral Puebloans are the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of today. The Ancestral Puebloans were a prehistoric culture that spread across New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado — the same four-state arena as their descendants today.
Chimney Rock, with its sacred crags, is the northeastern gateway to their world.
The Ancestral Puebloan people occupied the Chimney Rock and Piedra River valley area about 1,000 years ago, from 900 AD to 1125 AD. During that time, the area may have supported a population of more than 2,000 farming Native Americans who lived in pueblo villages and isolated houses.
An impressive testament to this life and community is the Chacoan Great House Pueblo, situated at an elevation of 7,600 feet just below the Chimney Rock pinnacles. While impressive, the Great House Pueblo is only one of 91 structures found thus far by researchers.
Although an important link to an ancient culture, several Native American groups, notably the Southern Ute Tribe and Pueblo Indians, still have a special spiritual and physical affinity with Chimney Rock.
The site provides a spectacular glimpse into the past, perhaps more so because so much of its history is unknown. But, beyond the mystery and speculation, it is most special and worth our protection as the home to a living culture where human beings were born, worked and played, built and farmed. As a place where they reflected on their world and their place in it.
Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is open May 15 through Sept. 30 for tours and special events. Tours are offered seven days a week.
The first of four daily tours, averaging 2 1/2 hours, begins at 9:30 a.m., weather permitting, on a first-come, first-served basis. Other tours begin at 10:30 a.m., 1 and 2 p.m. Groups of 10 or more are required to make reservations.
Visitors walk about one mile on the tour, which is at an elevation of 7,600 feet. The walk is in two stages: the first is the Great Kiva Trail — a barrier-free, smooth, paved trail of gentle grades. The second — the Pueblo Trail — is a more challenging walk (along cliffs) that climbs 200 feet from the upper parking lot through a rocky incline to the mesa top.
Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children 6-11. Children under 5 are free. Chimney Rock is almost completely run by volunteers. All fees help support the visitor program at the site, with 10 percent going to the “Save The Pueblo” site stabilization fund.
Special events in 2010 include Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox sunrise programs, monthly full moon programs and the monthly Night Sky Archaeoastronomy Program, providing entertainment, education and celestial viewing aided by telescopes. Advance ticket sales, reservations and registrations are a must for these programs to avoid disappointment.
Opportunities for “Early Tours” of the site prior to Full Moon Programs are offered for a nominal fee. Check the information sources listed below for specific times and costs.
Chimney Rock will also add to the Fourth of July festivities with “Life at Chimney Rock — A Festival of Crafts and Culture” July 3-4.
To reach the Chimney Rock entrance from Pagosa Springs, drive 17 miles west on U.S. 160 to the Colo. 151 junction. Turn south on Colo. 151 and continue south for three miles to the entrance. The Visitor Center is open daily, in season, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Bottled water, books and gift items are offered for sale at the site. Pets are not allowed on the tour site; however, there is a kennel available for pet owners’ usage. Children should be able to walk or be comfortably carried. The lower half of the tour — the Great Kiva Trail — is accessible to wheelchairs. Restrooms and the Visitor Cabin are wheelchair accessible.
The U.S. 160 corridor, on the north side of the site, is home to several commercial establishments offering fuel, food and game processing services (during hunting season). Farms and ranches are located near the Piedra River west of the site, some offering products to consumers during the growing season.
The Chimney Rock Interpretive Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, operating in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, San Juan National Forest, Pagosa Ranger District, via a special-use permit.
For more information about the Chimney Rock site, visit www.ChimneyRockCo.org, or call (970)883-5359, May 15-Sept. 30, or off season at (970)264-2287.