Help preserve history by joining the Chimney Rock volunteer team


By Chris Clayton

Special to The SUN

I knew I wanted to volunteer at Chimney Rock from the first time I visited the national monument. I was nearing retirement and planning to relocate to Pagosa Springs. I wanted to contribute to my new community, and if I could find a fun and interesting way to do it, all the better. My experience as a visitor to Chimney Rock convinced me I had found a home.

The volunteers at the cabin were warm and welcoming, and encouraged me to volunteer. My tour guide was informative and engaging, sharing archaeological and cultural insights into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans. I was immediately impressed by how knowledgeable the volunteers were about the site and its ancient inhabitants and how passionate they were about sharing Chimney Rock with visitors. I left the site inspired to become a tour guide myself someday.

Once I moved to Pagosa, I immediately signed up for the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) training program. In the program, I met many more fun and interesting people, veteran volunteers and newbies like myself. My career was in corporate training, and I have to say the CRIA training and mentoring program was one of the best I’ve seen. Everyone involved was supportive and encouraging. By the end, I was confident I could indeed become a tour guide.

I have now completed my first season as a CRIA tour guide and found it to be a wonderful experience. It feels great to be a part of this organization of interesting, supportive and dedicated people. I have made many new friends and have been able to contribute to the Pagosa community by sharing what I have learned about the amazing history and culture of the ancestral Puebloans with visitors from all over the world.

Because it is a little out of the way and a relatively new national monument, Chimney Rock seems to attract people really interested in taking the time to learn about the place and the people who lived there. I’ve had some very interesting questions and discussions with visitors that have led me to learn more about the archaeology, geology and environmental matters of Chimney Rock. I have also enjoyed very much meeting and working with the Forest Service employees. Not only are they friendly and fun, they all have extensive knowledge of the site and are most appreciative and supportive of us volunteers.

In my season of volunteering, my love and appreciation of the Chimney Rock site has grown. I love to imagine what it must have been like to live 1,000 years ago in a thriving community of eight villages. I love the spiritual experience of the full moon ceremony when Charles Martinez serenades the moon with his flute as it rises over the mountains. I love those rare moments watching a resident peregrine falcon soaring above the mesa. I love watching the reactions of our visitors as they see the Great House for the first time. Most of all, I love that I live in a place where we have the opportunity to see and experience the history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans in such a beautiful natural setting.

If any of my experiences appeal to you, I hope you come join us — as a tour guide, cabin host, mesa host or as a member of the maintenance team.

Open house

To help community members learn about the exciting volunteer opportunities at Chimney Rock National Monument, CRIA will host an open house on Friday, April 5, from 6 to 7 p.m. at The Springs Resort and Spa (EcoLuxe conference room). 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.

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, 230 Port Ave., and on April 27 at Chimney Rock National Monument.

CRIA is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that runs the daily operations and interpretive program at Chimney Rock National Monument in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and the San Juan National Forest. For more information, see the CRIA website at or call 731-7133.