President Obama Establishes Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado

Today, President Obama exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate a new national monument at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in Colorado, The president’s decision provides this irreplaceable site with permanent protection and a designation equal to its historic and cultural importance.  The 4,726-acre Chimney Rock Archaeological area located in San Juan National Forest holds great spiritual significance for more than twenty Pueblos  and other tribes  of the Southwest. 

President Obama’s decision—only the third time he has exercised his authority—comes in response to a grassroots campaign conceived and led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which engaged a diverse coalition of people and organizations, including a bipartisan group of local and statewide elected officials, Puebloan and tribal leaders and private citizens.  In May, the National Trust named Chimney Rock a National Treasure, one of the irreplaceable places that epitomize the American story but face distinct threats. The Trust, local preservationists and partners are working together to save a growing portfolio of National Treasures around the United States.

The history and cultural significance of Chimney Rock predate the exploration and settlement of North America.  Between A.D. 925 and 1125, the Chacoans built a residential and ceremonial village and inhabited the Chimney Rock mesa, establishing the most northeastern and highest known Chacoan site.  

“Chimney Rock helps us understand the story of the Chacoans, ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians, most of whom do not have a written history.   Their history is written on the landscape, in the structures and in the traditional cultural practices  at places like Chimney Rock.  Their story is an inextricable part of our collective American story,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The action taken by President Obama will ensure that this unique and important sacred landscape is given the level of protection and recognition it deserves.  In a very tangible way, preserving Chimney Rock helps to weave our multi-cultural nation together.”

The Chacoans were great engineers, architects and astronomers.  Among their ceremonial and residential structures on the mesa is the Great House Pueblo which was likely used as an observatory for the rare Northern Lunar Standstill.  During the standstill the moon aligns between Chimney Rock’s double spires.  This extraordinary lunar alignment has earned Chimney Rock the nickname “America’s Stonehenge.” 

"Chimney Rock contains the rare combination of a spectacular geologic formation with extraordinary cultural, historical and archeological significance,” said Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “We've been making a strong and clear case to Congress and the Administration that those attributes should be matched with national monument status. It will be an extraordinary boost for the region by preserving and protecting the site and driving tourism, which would draw more visitors and bring more dollars into the local, regional and state economies."

Professor Stephan H. Lekson, Curator of Archaeology & Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History provided insight into this occasion:“I have seen many archaeological ruins and sites.  In the United States, Chimney Rock is the most impressive, with its massive Chaco-style masonry walls perched high above the river, with twin sandstone pillars rising just to the east.  It is a remarkable place, and is deserving of national monument status.”

Going forward, the National Trust has made a committment to continue its work with both public and private partners to ensure that Chimney Rock and other National Treasures are preserved through the engagement of a wide range of people and partners in strategic campaigns to protect these critically threatened places.  America’s federal public lands contain fascinating prehistoric sites, unique historic buildings and remarkable sacred landscapes in the midst of stunning scenic beauty. These cultural resources define our shared American heritage. They must be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations because they are the link between our past and future.  


BACKGROUND ON CHIMNEY ROCK The Chimney Rock National Monument will permanently preserve and protect the Forest Service’s 4,726-acre Chimney Rock Archeological Area. Chimney Rock currently attracts approximately 12,000 visitors per year and is operated through a special use permit by the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association. H.R. 2621, the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act, sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) passed the House of Representatives in May 2012, and a Senate companion bill, S. 508, sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mark Udall (D-CO) had a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 2011.

National Monument designations historically have brought increased federal funding and resources to sites and surrounding areas, thereby providing for higher quality visitor facilities, more interpretation, better public education and improved site stabilization.  An economic study released by the National Trust in July confirmed the economic value of Chimney Rock will likely double within five years of the designation.



The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places., @SavingPlaces