On Sept. 21, 2012, President Barack Obama designated the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as America’s 103rd national monument—the seventh to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Covering 4,726 acres of the San Juan National Forest between Pagosa Springs and Durango, Colo., the Chimney Rock National Monument is a significant archaeological, cultural, geological and biological site.
Home to Ancient Pueblo Indians
Surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, the site holds great significance for the Native American tribes of southwestern Colorado and neighboring states. The site was once home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, who built more than 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor more than 1,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the site marks a connection to the Chacoan society who inhabited Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico.
The area has 118 known archaeological sites, including the dramatic Great House Pueblo which likely was used as an observatory for the annual summer solstice. Other features include the Great Kiva, which was likely used for religious ceremonies and community activities; storage rooms; and residential pit houses.
The dramatic geology of the monument stands in stark contrast to the majestic Ponderosa Pine forest and rolling savannah-like plains along the valley floor. The Piedra River cuts along the edge of Peterson Mesa in the northern portion of the monument. Steep cliffs and expanses of exposed sandstone and shale are evidence of the geologic era.
The San Juan National Forest encompasses about 1.8 million acres in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Terrain ranges from high-desert mesas to alpine peaks, with thousands of miles of back roads and hundreds of miles of trails to explore.