2017 Aug 30 – Pagosa Springs,CO (Chimney Rock)

Yesterday was a stitch day.  Today is a placard day, and, well, a stitch day too.  WARNING: long blog.

We left the condo at 10 to 10 to give us plenty of time to drive to Chimney Rock National Monument in time for the 11 am tour.  There are no park fees to enter the monument and wander around; but neither of the ancient ruins are visible from the road and access to the Great Kiva and the Pueblo House are by paid tour only.  Tours leave at 10, 11 and 1 each day and are guided by a US Forest Service Ranger.

Chimney Rock became a National Monument in 2012 by Presidential decree of former president Barrack Obama.  The area is very significant to the Pueblo and Hopi people; who still hold rituals and events to this day.

On the drive to Chimney Rock we passed another really nice ranch gate. While we waited for our tour to start Stuart, one of the Park Rangers, showed John how to use an Atlatl, an ancient throwing device that greatly accelerated the speed and power of a thrown spear.  When the Spanish arrived in the area the Indians could pierce their armour with a spear using an atlatl. While John practiced his spear throwing I wandered the quarter-mile nature trail.  I took photos of several of the pages of information (and, as you will soon see, photos of most of the information boards on our tour. That way I don’t have to remember all this interesting stuff and you don’t have to sort through tons of text as I write all that I do remember.  You can just skip the image and move on if you don’t want to read it.  Win, win.)

John and Stuart were still spear throwing when I was done, but John hit the straw target on his last throw.  Stuart was impressed and said he was one of the very few to do so in five years. Most of the people in our group took the shuttle to the ruins.  You can also drive your own vehicle up but you must show your wrist band to indicate you are on a tour or you will be sent back down. It is three miles up a washboard gravel road.  We left Poppy at the bottom and took the shuttle.

Chimney Rock has this restricted access to the high elevation Ancient Pueblo to protect the site and to control where people wander and thereby keep them safe on the narrow, rugged, high trail.

The first part of our tour was a one-half mile paved pathway to the Great Kiva .  A person can do a self-guided audio tour of this area if they choose. Our guide was Bill Wylie and he was excellent. We had several people very intrested and quite well-read on these ancient cultures so there was plenty of discussion.  Bill was very good at asking questions to get us thinking about how these people lived.

We passed remains of several pit houses, barely distinguishable from a pile of rocks, but underground the stacked wall stones are still intact.The view up here was awesome! This re-constructed pit house had three rooms attached, one was for cooking, one was for preparing tools, and the last was used to grind corn and pinion nuts into flour for cooking. Just in case you wish to make some authentic cornbread here is the recipe. We saw several of these little blue-tail lizards.The Kiva is a spirtual and community center.  There are many of them in the Four Corners area and all have the same design, although some are much larger than others.  Archaeologists have yet to understand the significance of the two rectangular areas in the middle. This Kiva was abandoned not long after it was used.  There has been no fire in the central fire pit. The Kiva is still used today for ceremonies and is not open to the public.This is a second, larger, deeper pit house construction.  Higher walls and also added rooms.After we completed the Kiva trail Bill led us up the hill for the mile-long hike to the Pueblo House which is located at the very top of a cliff that sits next to the two rock formations – although you can’t get from one to another unless you can fly.

It didn’t take long for the nice gravel path to turn into a clamber of rock ‘steps.’  The path has a steep elevation gain of 200′ so anyone afraid of heights, or gets dizzy or has heart problems is discouraged from taking the tour. The ridge we navigated was only about 15′ wide.

See our path along the right side.  I would think a person would not need to be told to not venture close to the edge.  Both sides of the cliff spine we were walking across were sheer drops of several hundred feet.  But, I guess stupid is not something that can be cured.This is the Peterson Ridge across the valley.  Must be named for a relative. There are unexcavated ruins over there and in the valley.  It is estimated about 200 villages were in this areas.The Pueblo House was very large compared to the Pit Houses down below.  It was rectangular instead of round and had 35 rooms.  The construction and design are the same as the Chaco Canyon ruins 90 miles away. The pit houses below and the pueblo house up top were constructed by two different peoples (Chaco and Pueblo) who lived on the mesa at the same time and deserted the mesa also about the same time for reasons unknown. It is speculated that the pueblo people in the lower mesa were conscripted to build the large Chaco house.The construction of the Pueblo House is much more detailed and meticulous than the pit houses and archaeologist believe it was once plastered and painted white which would have made it visible on a clear day 90 miles away in Chaco Canyon; which is a like civilization to the Pueblo House.

Chimney Rock and Companion Rock are sacred to the local native people.  No one can access them.  Even though they look close together and close to the cliff top we were on, Companion Rock (the larger one) is about a 1/4 mile away (and there is no land between as the spine of the cliff we were on ends just past the Pueblo House) and Chimney Rock is probably another 1/4 mile away from Companion Rock.  The rocks are very soft and unstable so they have never been climbed either. Going back down the narrow, rock-step trail. After we got back to the lower visitor’s center we went over to one of the picnic tables and had lunch.

On the drive back to the main road we stopped to take a photo that shows Chimney Rock (right), Companion Rock (middle) and the mesa spine we walked along to the Pueblo House (left). There were a few geocaches to pick up on our way back to Pagosa Springs.   Back at the resort, we rested our weary feet before dinner and the evening walk to the lake for sunset watch. Chock up another great day of sights and learning.

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