The volunteer group based in Pagosa Springs known as the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association has been critical to the enjoyment and protection of Chimney Rock Archaeological Area east of Bayfield. With minimum financial support and maximum care and affection, its members conduct well-guided tours, maintain trails and provide a modicum of security. The sandstone twin pinnacle Chacoan outlier with its two kivas that dates to the 10th and 11th centuries has been fortunate to be under their immediate care.
Chimney Rock (with its Companion Rock, clusters of structures on the ridge and agricultural sites along the Piedra River at their base) is within the San Juan National Forest. In 1970, the U.S. Forest Service assumed responsibility for the rich archaeological treasure, and soon after the Interpretive Association was formed to be of important assistance.
And while numerous professional groups, including from the University of Colorado and the state Historical Society, have done research at Chimney Rock, there are more questions awaiting answers. Now, more than 40 years later, it is time for the 4,700-acre Chimney Rock area to be elevated to the status of a national monument.
Some 10,000 visitors tour Chimney Rock annually. With visibility, increased access and greater interpretive opportunities that national-monument status conveys, that number can and should be much greater. Families who travel to the Four Corners to experience the areas extraordinary archaeological resources may be first drawn by Mesa Verde National Park, but there are sites in all directions that can make for an even more thought-provoking outdoor vacation: the Great Kiva in Aztec, Hovenweep National Monument close to the Utah border, and Chimney Rock. Marketed and visited together the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Monument status for Chimney Rock has had a succession of supporters spanning both political parties. Third Congressional District Rep. John Salazar put his shoulder into the effort, and his successor, Scott Tipton, is doing the same, now. On the Senate side, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall are putting time and energy into the effort.
Several local talking sessions, including one Friday that included Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, show overwhelming local support for national-monument designation.
The challenge, however, has been to move the necessary legislation through Congress. Congress is not functioning particularly well at this time, and is not expected to improve in the near future.
While we would prefer to have Congress make it happen, the 1906 federal Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to designate national monuments. Just 10 days ago, with his signature President Barack Obama set aside a portion of the former Fort Ord military reservation near Monterey on the California coast. The president could, and should, do the same for Chimney Rock.
This corner of Colorado, and the Four Corners, has a treasure in Chimney Rock that can be appreciated and enjoyed to a greater degree by the public than it is now while still allowing for professional research and for safeguarding its fragile condition.
Monument status, provided by the president under Antiquities Act, is the way to make that happen.