Yucca House National Monument south of Cortez would grow six times larger under legislation introduced this week in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner, both Colorado Republicans, introduced companion bills, House Resolution 1492 and Senate Resolution 641, which allow for a 160-acre land donation to the archaeological-rich monument.
“The Yucca House National Monument is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the country and stands as a reminder of how the ancient Pueblo people used to live hundreds of years ago,” Tipton said.
Gardner added that “protecting Colorado’s public lands for our future generations is one of my top priorities, and I’m excited to introduce this legislation that will provide additional safeguards for Yucca House National Monument, one of the most well-preserved ancient dwellings in the country.”
Bernard and Nancy Karwick have agreed to donate a 160-acre parcel along the southeastern border of the 33-acre monument to help preserve ancient cultural sites. Because of the significant expansion, the monument’s boundary adjustment must be facilitated through an act of Congress.
The bill would expand the monument to 193 acres, and it coincides with the monument’s 100-year anniversary.
“We don’t foresee any issues holding it up,” said Mathew Atwood, press secretary for Tipton. “The monument and the landowner are in agreement on the donation. Statutes require congressional approval.”
Yucca House was first established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson after an initial land donation by Henry Van Kleeck. It was expanded to 33 acres in 1996.
If passed, the expanded monument would protect additional ancestral Puebloan sites and allow resolution of a long-standing problem of access. Yucca House is managed by Mesa Verde National Park.
Currently, public access is allowed via a National Park Service easement on a ranch at the end of County Road 20.5.
In 2014, rancher Larry Pickens, an agent for Box Bar Ranch, had asked Montezuma County commissioners to abandon Road 20.5, which accesses Yucca House. He said tourist traffic and parking interfere with his farming operation.
But the request was denied because monument managers said they hold a 1936 permanent public road easement through the rancher’s land, and it can’t be abandoned unless another access point was created.
Monument and county officials support a plan to relocate the public entrance off the Box Bar Ranch to a point farther down Road 20.5, where it passes along the proposed expanded portion. New infrastructure would be minimal and may include a parking lot, restroom and formalized trail system with interpretative wayside exhibits.
Bill sponsors received needed support for the private land transfer from Montezuma County commissioners.
Commissioners balked at supporting it after passage of a county No Net Loss ordinance in 2017 that was in response to federal agencies obtaining private land and taking it off the tax rolls.
The ordinance says that if a federal land agency acquires private land to be put in the public domain, an equal amount of acreage of federal land should be offered back to the private sector.
But when Mesa Verde National Park officials reminded the county commissioners that they expressed support for the land donation before the ordinance was passed, the commissioners stood by their original support for the land donation.
Yucca House is relatively unknown. Although it is open to the public for no fee, no signs direct tourists to the monument, and most visitors find out about it only while visiting Mesa Verde, which offers tours of the 800-year-old pueblo.
The unexcavated pueblo village has the ruins of 600 rooms, 100 kivas, several towers, multiple plazas, unexplained structures and one great kiva.