Chimney Rock, Colorado

Leading a group of forty west to the UUBar………………….

             Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.   This week I’m taking you back in time once again. The year was AD 925 and the place was called Chimney Rock, lying between what would later become Durango and Pagosa Springs, Colorado in the 4,100 acre San Juan National Forest Archaeological area. Sitting on top of a mountain, Chimney Rock stands 315 feet tall and archaeologists estimate that the rock itself is over 535 million years old. In AD 925 the Pueblo people built a community here with seventy-five mile panoramic views of the area. With only a narrow path leading to the top the two thousand or so residents probably felt safe in their natural fortress where they could easily see any approaching enemy.

Since the early 1960s Dr. Frank Eddy of the University of Colorado and many others have been excavating this site and they have uncovered hundreds of artifacts revealing how these people lived.  Their buildings included spaces for living, working and religious ceremonies. At the center of the buildings was the so-called Great House with many ceremonial rooms, known as kivas. According to local history, the same Pueblo people who inhabited Chimney Rock also discovered the famous Pagosa hot springs.

Today the site is jointly managed by the United States Forest Service and the Pagosa Ranger District and the Chimney Rock Interpretative Association which is staffed by both the Forest Service and volunteers who conduct daily guided walking tours of the site from May 15-September 30. Up to 10,000 visitors tour Chimney Rock annually and now there is a push to declare the rock a national monument which would further protect the site and open the door for expanded tourism and research opportunities in the area.

I first learned about Chimney Rock when Loretta and I visited the area four years ago and I can tell you it was a breath taking climb to the top along that narrow trail. The history here is awe inspiring as is the surrounding countryside and it is hard to imagine a place more deserving of national monument status.

While I’m in New Mexico I am also planning to go back to Ghost Ranch outside of Abiqui. In1933 Arthur Pack, an editor for an East Coast magazine, bought Ghost Ranch after visiting the area for a story. Pack built a dude ranch for the rich and famous and soon many celebrities were regular guests, including Charles and Anne Lindbergh, Leopold Schakowsky, the Johnson family of Johnson & Johnson and the person who would show the world the astounding beauty of the area, Georgia O’Keefe. O’Keefe eventually bought a piece of land from the Packs and built her own home there. She spent the rest of her life painting the extraordinary landscape around her.

In 1941 Ghost Ranch became part of history again when scientists from Los Alamos who were working on the Manhattan Project started coming to the ranch for rest and relaxation. For security reasons during this period the ranch was placed off-limits for the everyday visitor until 1947.

In 1955 Arthur and Phoebe Pack donated Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in hopes that the church would make good use of this magical and mystical place. I would say they have succeeded. Hiking, horseback riding, stargazing and exploring the past are just a few of the activities that are available to visitors. But don’t count on your cell phone or your ATM card- they may not work in this remote area that feels like a step back in time.

Over the years thousands of kids have come to church retreats here and had their horizons expanded by the experience. Peace Corps members and National Guard troops have been trained at the ranch and Georgia O’Keefe even had her ashes scattered over the property when she died in 1986. The Packs would be very happy.

I am anxious to be inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s creative spirit once again.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….



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