In a region known for historical ancient Pueblo sites that are world renowned like Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and Mesa Verde National Park, Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is located at the most northern and eastern edge of the Chaco civilization in Southwest Colorado. Inhabited from 900 to 1150 A.D. by the ancient Pueblos, legislation to designate the Chacoan civilization of Chimney Rock a national monument was introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) on May 8, 2011. This is the second attempt to establish Chimney Rock as a national monument.
In 2010, the Chimney Rock National Monument Act of 2010 was introduced by Senator Bennet and U.S. Representative John Salazar (D-CO) but expired after passing a bipartisan vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on July 21, 2010. Salazar was approached by the non-profit membership organization, National Trust for Historic Preservation, to carry national monument legislation for the twin spires in the San Juan Mountains. Since then, Congressman Salazar was defeated in the mid-term election in November 2010 by U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) , and the 2011 legislation is solely being carried by Bennet.
The highest in elevation of the ancient Puebo sites at 7600 feet, Chimney Rock is currently under the control of the U.S. National Forest Service and is run by the volunteer organization Chimney Rock Interpretative Association (CRIA). The Forest Service would continue to be the controlling agent under the national monument legislation. If the legislation is approved, Chimney Rock would be one of six units that is a part of the national parks jurisdiction that is still run by the National Forest.
Along with national monument distinction, Chimney Rock would increase in acreage to 4,726 from 4,100, CRIA would continue assisting in providing programs and tours of the site, and funds from the national parks budget would be directed to provide bathroom facilities, additional paving to the limited parking area, and upgrade the trailer that currently houses the visitor center.
The legislation has been supported by local governing agencies which include the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta Board of County Commissioners with benefits including stimulation of heritage tourism in the area and local economies. Congressman Tipton cited the concern of burdening the federal budget by adding to the deficit with priorities like an additional national park unit to fund if Chimney Rock becomes a national monument.
Chimney Rock Archaeological Area opened for the season May 15, 2011, and the daily hours are 9 am to 4:30 pm with four guided walking tours. Night sky archaeoastronomy programs are offered throughout the May 15 through September 30, 2011 season. With one of the few civilizations that follow the 18.6 year cycle of the moon, the spires that dominate the Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine forest, provide an elevated view of the sky unimpeded by light pollution. The first night sky program is June 3, 2011. Chimney Rock is located 17 miles west of Pagosa Springs on Highway 160 and 3 miles south on Highway 151.