Chimney Rock National Monument has opened a new visitor center – The Durango Herald

The San Juan National Forest Facility has been updated to reflect cultural significance, adapting to increased visits

The new Chimney Rock National Monument Visitor Center opened May 15. The center houses interactive and multimedia exhibits with art, audio, and quotes from tribal members. (Courtesy of Chimney Rock National Park)

Representing a decade of national monuments, Chimney Rock National Monument has received a new facade.

Chimney Rock National Forest Memorial in San Juan opened a new visitor center May 15, marking a major development for the protected site. With an upgraded visitor center, the Forest Service aims to create facilities that reflect the monument’s cultural value and can be compared to other national monuments where visitation is amplified.

“We are really excited. It’s been a long time coming,” said Cody Kamak, Chimney Rock National Monument’s Principal Ranger and Visitor Information Assistant.

The former Chimney Rock National Monument Visitor Center was a small cabin from which the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association, which leads educational programming for the site, conducted its operations.

The exterior of the new Visitor Center for Chimney Rock National Monument. The center highlights the people, history, and environment of the site, which was one of the largest in southwestern Colorado during the Second Pueblo period from AD 900 to 1150 (courtesy of Cody Kamack, San Juan National Forest)

In its 2015 memorial management plan and environmental impact statement, the US Forest Service proposed creating new interpretive trails and visitor facilities. Kamak said the visitor center has been under construction for two or three years.

The visitor center contains interpretive multimedia and interactive exhibits, as well as a gift shop operated by CRIA. New displays take visitors through the people, history, and environment of the site, which was one of the largest in southwestern Colorado during the Pueblo II period from AD 900 to 1150.

The Forest Service hired Puebloan tribes during the development of the center, and it features quotes, audio recordings of tribal members, and artwork from Ronnie Kachini, a Zuni artist.

Artwork showing the “three sisters” crops of maize, beans and squash that were raised by many Aboriginal communities. The United States Forestry Department consulted the Puebloan tribes during the development of the new visitor center, and it features quotes, audio recordings of tribal members, and artwork from Ronnie Kachini, a Zuni artist. (Courtesy of Cody Kamak, San Juan National Forest)

“We have tried to do a good job of getting to know the modern Puebloan people and their association with the site and representing them as best we can,” Kamak said.

Besides the facility, CRIA has expanded its interpretive activities and events, offering lectures, art classes, and night programs.

With the construction of the visitor center, the Forest Service intends to highlight the cultural resources of Chimney Rock National Monument and its importance to Aboriginal communities in the Southwest.

Located near Colorado Highway 151 between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield, the 4,726-acre memorial established by former President Barack Obama in 2012 protects about 200 homes and ceremonial buildings established by Puebloan ancestors associated with the Chaco and Chaco Canyon community in northwest New Mexico.

The monument features, great kiva, excavated houses and large houses, some of which have been excavated and rebuilt. It is still an important place for the Puebloan tribes that maintain their association with the site.

The US Forest Service has updated the Chimney Rock National Monument Visitor Center to reflect other national monuments facilities, many of which are operated by the National Park Service. (Courtesy of Cody Kamak, San Juan National Forest)

“We are proud of this place and it is an important part of our shared heritage in the region,” Kamak said. “We want to do our best to tell a respectful and thoughtful story and leave room for people to have their own experience here.”

The upgraded visitor center is also intended to mimic the National Monument facilities that many visitors from the National Park Service are accustomed to.

The National Park Service lists about 150 national monuments, most of which the park service operates. Kamak said Chimney Rock National Monument is one of 13 managed by the Forest Service.

“We try to look and feel like other national monuments in terms of how we run and what people expect,” he said.

San Juan National Forest’s improvements to the visitor center come as more visitors stop at the National Monument as they make their way between Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks.

In the past three years, Kamak said, visitation to Chimney Rock National Monument has doubled. An estimated 15,500 people visited the park in 2020.

“A lot of times people come here out of curiosity and find themselves really surprised by the amount of interpretive offerings we have, the amazing story we have to tell (and) the extraordinary structures at the top of the mesa that really bring life to the people who have been here before “.

In addition to the visitor center, San Juan National Forest has also implemented a new fee system that began May 15 to aid operations, visitor services, and maintenance costs as visitation grows.

Visiting Chimney Rock National Monument has ballooned in recent years. Alongside the opening of the new visitor center, the National Monument implemented a new fee system for the first time in 2022 (courtesy of Cody Kamack, San Juan National Forest)

A $20 fee for cars and $10 motorcycles will be charged for a five-day activity permit to access the National Monument. Entry for tribal members is free and entry passes are valid.

Chimney Rock National Monument and CRIA are preparing for more visitors ahead of the major lunar layover in the next two years. During a lunar inertia, which occurs every 18.6 years, the moon aligns with the Chimney Rock and Great House Pueblo plumes at the site, according to the Chimney Rock National Monument.

With the new Visitor Center, Chimney Rock National Monument will be ready to welcome those visitors and others seeking to learn more about the cultural resources of southwest Colorado.

“There has been great appreciation for many years, and I am confident with these new changes that we will be able to continue to protect and share them going forward,” Cammack said.

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