Ernie O’Toole: Why I became a Chimney Rock guide


By Ernie O’Toole

Special to The SUN

I moved to Pagosa Springs in December of 2014, after “living in the woods” of North Park, Colo., for most of the previous 21 years. I was not a stranger to Pagosa, having hunted in the area on first moving to Colorado from Boston in 1968, and I felt I really wanted to get involved in the community upon my move to the area. I had previously worked seasonally with the U.S. Forest Service in North Park and had it in my mind to do some volunteer work for them here in Pagosa. Upon looking into that possibility, I found out about Chimney Rock National Monument and its need for volunteers.

I had been intrigued by the ancestral Puebloans and their extensive civilization in the Four Corners area ever since my first visit to Mesa Verde in the early ’70s. I had read a number of books on the subject and had visited several of their archaeological sites in the ensuing years, and although I was not an expert on ancestral Puebloans by any means, the subject really held my interest.

I attended the training sessions three years ago and immediately decided I would like to be a tour guide. I like to interact with the public and to be able to pass on to the public what is known and hypothesized about the ancestral Puebloans, and I feel that it is a valuable public service. It conveys respect, understanding and acceptance of different peoples. It would be a means to give back to society.

The training that I received through Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) was excellent. I really enjoyed reading about the latest findings about these people and was astonished to learn just how advanced they really were. The training involved both the latest scientific analyses of archaeological findings and Native American interpretations of who these people were.

I am particularly grateful to my guide mentor, John Richardson (with 19 years of volunteering experience), and all the other “seasoned” guides whom I “shadowed” throughout my training. My own research on the subject brought me to Chaco Canyon, the Canyon of the Ancients, back to Mesa Verde, Aztec Ruins, Comb Ridge, Moon House and some of the traditional Pueblos in New Mexico. I am back on a quest for learning more and more about these fascinating people, not just for my own edification, but to be able to share this knowledge with the public.

Another rewarding aspect about being a tour guide at Chimney Rock is interacting with the other volunteers. I have met and become friends with a number of wonderful people who enhance my life here in Pagosa Springs. That, along with meeting the interesting people who take the tours, kind of makes it complete. I look forward to continuing as tour guide for the foreseeable future and serving on the CRIA Board of Trustees.

Please consider joining our band of enthusiastic Chimney Rock volunteers. To help community members learn about the exciting volunteer opportunities at Chimney Rock National Monument, CRIA will host two open houses. The first will take place on Friday, Feb. 22, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the EcoLuxe building at The Springs Resort and Spa located at 165 Hot Springs Blvd. The second will take place at the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library on March 22 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

There will be a host of CRIA volunteers on hand who are eager to introduce guests to the variety of roles that support this unique program and the flexibility in level of commitment. Some of the volunteer positions include visitor cabin host, mesa host, tour guide and maintenance team.

CRIA offers a great, in-depth training program in a fun environment to anyone interested in joining our amazing team of volunteers. This year volunteer training will take place on April 26 at the PLPOA Vista Clubhouse at 230 Port Ave.

For more information, please visit or call the CRIA office at 731-7133.