Chimney Rock nears monument status

A Four Corners archeological treasure is edging closer to lasting protection. Last week, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on a bill to establish Chimney Rock Archeological Area as a national monument.

The 4,700-acre Chimney Rock site is located near Pagosa Springs, currently managed by the San Juan National Forest and considered a significant national historical site. Chimney Rock exhibits many of the features that earned Chaco Canyon a World Heritage listing, and the site is the most northeasterly and highest (7,600 feet) Chacoan site known. In addition, Chimney Rock is among the most remarkable Puebloan sites in terms of archeoastronomy. Every 18.6 years, the moon, as seen from the Great House Pueblo, rises between the rock spires during an event known as the Northern Lunar Standstill.

Chimney Rock was first recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Last July, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended the elevation of Chimney Rock to a National Monument.

“Chimney Rock has incredible historical and cultural significance,” wrote U.S. Sen Michael Bennet, who introduced the legislation. “Yet the site lacks a designation equal to that stature. This discrepancy is why countless preservation groups got involved with Chimney Rock.” He added that passage of this bill will also increase tourism and economic development for Southwest Colorado.

If it gains national monument status, Chimney Rock would remain a unit of the San Juan National Forest, and Native American tribes will retain access to the site for traditional and cultural uses.

Originally introduced by Bennet and former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, the Chimney Rock bill did not make it to the floor during the 111th Congress. Bennet reintroduced the bill in March in the hopes of gaining passage this year. The “commonsense piece of legislation” contains one minor change from 2010 and calls for the designation of a manager for the monument, “to be the steward of this remarkable archeological treasure.”


New Southern Ute Museum to open

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe enters a new chapter this weekend. The new Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum will open its doors with a two-day grand opening celebration on May 21-22.

Under construction since early 2007, the museum was designed to tell the tribe’s story to both tribal members and visitors. Key to sharing the story is the remarkable structure, a $35 million building designed by acclaimed Seattle architect Johnpaul Jones. The 52,000-square-foot building reflects the input of dozens of meetings with members of the tribe, and the sky, a focal point of Ute life, figures prominently in the finished project.

The museum will open with a Circle of Life Worldwide Welcome from noon-5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Events include lessons in native crafts and arts; programs on beading, pottery and basket making; and drumming and dance demonstrations.

The museum’s temporary gallery current features a basket exhibit, including several contemporary creations made by White Mesa basketweavers. The museum’s 8.5-acre site also offers insights in native plant species and medicinal gardens.

For more information, visit


School aces air quality monitoring

Sunnyside Elementary School has received a set of grades that the entire Durango area can get behind. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a final report on air quality monitoring at the school south of Durango, and the findings were overwhelmingly positive.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Air Quality program started monitoring Sunnyside in 2009 as part of EPA’s School Air Toxics Monitoring Initiative. The EPA selected Sunnyside because it is located near air emissions sources associated with oil and gas drilling in the northern portion of the San Juan Basin. The school is also upwind of the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station, both notorious polluters.

However, EPA’s analysis found that concentrations of air toxins near the school are within safe levels for both short- and long-term exposure. The study did turn up low levels of benzene, butadiene and other volatile organic compounds. However, none of the concentrations were high enough to warrant concern. Based on the results, the EPA will discontinue monitoring at Sunnyside.  


LPEA voters opt for the status quo

La Plata Electric Association member-owners gave a recent “vote of confidence” to the local electric cooperative. Incumbent board members Jeff Berman and Joe Wheeling were re-elected, and voters overwhelmingly approved four bylaw amendments necessary to keep LPEA in compliance with new state statutes.

However, only 14 percent of voters returned their ballots, down from an average 20 percent return during most elections. Greg Munro, LPEA’s CEO, said that the numbers point to satisfaction with the cooperative rather than apathy.

“The re-election of the incumbent directors, as well as the relatively low return of ballots is actually a vote of confidence for the cooperative,” said Greg Munro, LPEA CEO. “Because we are a cooperative, we truly want our members to vote, but history has shown us that when our members are generally satisfied with the job we’re doing, our election returns are lower.”

A conservationist who has served on the LPEA Board since 2005, Berman remains an advocate for greater clean energy and energy efficiency programs. Wheeling, a member of the James Ranch family enterprise, has devoted his LPEA tenure to sustainable resource management, environmentally sound enterprises and support of the local community.

Local company earns Governor’s Award

A Durango company has gotten the Governor’s Office’s attention. StoneAge Inc. was recognized this week with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Exporting. This award has been given every May since 1970 and honors Colorado companies that demonstrate a commitment to international trade.  

StoneAge Inc. is recognized as a world leader in providing tools and equipment for water blast cleaning. StoneAge was established in Durango in 1979 when two young men, working in a dusty old garage, turned an idea into a viable tool. Today, all of StoneAge’s operations are still run in Durango, and the company exports to 43 different foreign countries, including Brazil, Poland, Thailand, South Africa and United Arab Emirates, to name a few.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing