Near the New Mexico border in central Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Range starts to branch out into the vast Colorado Plateau. In this high desert region there are many canyons, eroded mesas and a few green valleys that rivers run through. The southern border of Colorado is where the lush forested mountain environment meets the high desert and this transitional zone is interesting to see. Sparse Juniper and Ponderosa Pine forests cover the high elevations, while the low elevations are covered with grass and sagebrush. Evidence of extreme erosive forces can be seen in the geological makeup, which can be attributed to the rock strata freezing and thawing over eons of time. The result is land full of hoodoos, deep ravines, flat top mesa islands and towering rock pillar formations.
Chimney Rock is one of the most famous landmarks in southern Colorado. There is no mistaking Chimney Rock when driving along U.S. Highway 160 just west of Pagosa Springs. Chimney Rock stands ominously high in the blue sky when viewed from a few miles away. The pyramidal shape of a sole mountain peak with a chimney shaped pillar on top is enough to cause any passerby to stop and stare in awe! Chimney Rock truly is a sight to behold and it is easy to see why this landmark has been respected as a sacred place for thousands of years.
Chimney Rock National Monument is also the home of one of the most significant archaeological sites in the west. A well preserved ancient pueblo structure sits high on top of the hill just below the Chimney Rock pillar. What makes this ancient pueblo so significant is both the sheer size and the cultural origins. There were over 200 rooms in this great house pueblo and over 2,000 native people lived here long ago. The structure has living quarters, food storage silos, work shops, artisan studios, large round communal kivas and ceremonial rooms. The origins of the culture were a mystery for many years and many assumptions were made. Recently an expert in the field stated that the Chimney Rock Pueblo is indeed connected to the nearby Chaco Culture. It was the ancient Chacoan Roads that led to this conclusion. Chimney Rock being a satellite of Chaco is an intriguing item to ponder over when visiting this ancient sacred place.
Some say that the final end of the occupation of this region came during a severe drought somewhere between the years 1,100 and 1,300. Some say that the entire society moved on and became members of other cultures. Some say that the ancient Pueblo People returned to their home in the stars. Nobody seems to be sure about about the ancient past and this leaves plenty of room for interpretation. The ancient pueblos and the land surrounding these sites are still highly revered as spiritual places of healing and these places are the home of spiritual ancestors, so they must be respected as such. On any given day, there will likely be native people who made a pilgrimage to the ancient pueblos to chant spiritual prayers with the ancestors. Witnessing this does inspire a deeper understanding.
The ancient pueblos and land that surrounds the ancient sites are indeed tied together as one. Organized agriculture, foraging space and hunting grounds were needed to support a great house pueblo. If a pueblo was the size of a small city, like the one at Chimney Rock, then a vast amount of territory would be needed to support the corresponding population and the agricultural areas in the nearby valleys would be extensive. For this reason, the environment surrounding a great house pueblo is every bit as sacred as the structure itself. When the terrain surrounding an ancient pueblo is preserved, future generations can understand the symbiotic relationship between the environment and the pueblo inhabitants. The all encompassing preservation of the entire cultural site is what Chimney Rock and many other National Monuments in the west are all about.
Opting for a native guided tour will provide plenty of much needed insight, so this is the best way to go when planning a visit to Chimney Rock National Monument. Early summer is the best time to arrive, because the snow melt will likely be over. The significance of the Chimney Rock great house pueblo is fascinating to ponder over and this is part of the charm. Chimney Rock is also one of the easiest ancient heritage sites to get to in a regular passenger car, so this is reason enough chalk this destination up high on the list!
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