Destruction of Pueblo Bonito caused by fall of "Threatening Rock".
photo by Ron Lussier

Chaco named to list of
100 most endangered monuments.

Date: March 26, 1996
To: Archaeology & Historic Preservation Community
From: Loretta Neumann

As you may have read in the newspapers, the World Monuments Fund selected Chaco Culture National Historical Park and associated archaeological sites in New Mexico for its first annual List of 100 Most Endangered Monuments. The list is part of a new 5-year project, entitled World Monuments Watch, to identify and preserve the world's endangered cultural landmarks. It is a program of the World Monuments Fund, a private not-for-profit organization established to help preserve the world's artistic and architectural heritage.

Other sites nominated to the 1996 World Monuments Watch list include a Greco-Roman archaeological site in Albania, the Taj Mahal, the Byzantine church of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Tibetan monasteries in Nepal, the equestrian monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Khami National Monument in Zimbabwe. In the United States, selected sites include Ellis Island in New York, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, adobe missions of McKinley County in New Mexico, and Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans.

The nomination of Chaco was made with the support of the National Park Service by me and a number of archaeologists and other people concerned about Chaco's future. As part of the nomination, we were also required to develop a proposal that would address its threats. We did so, as described below--essentially a well-facilitated strategic planning effort to bring other the diverse stakeholders who are concerned about Chaco to devise strategies for its protection. The World Monuments Fund has a grant from American Express that will help some but not all of the listed monuments. Not all sites on the list will receive financial assistance; the grants will not be announced until the end of May. Even if the Chaco project gets funded, it will need augmentation from other sources. It will also require the participation, on a largely volunteer basis, of many other people who want to add their knowledge and expertise to this effort.

This memo will provide some information about Chaco, the nature of the threats to the area and our proposed project.

If you would like to be added to our Chaco e-mail list to be kept posted on our acuities, please send me a private e-mail message to Loretta_Neumann@Hap.Cais.Com

Snail Mail Address:

CEHP Incorporated,
1627 K Street NW, Suite 300
Washington DC 20006
Phone: 202-293-1774
FAX: 202-293-1782

Chaco's Importance

Chaco Canyon and its associated archaeological sites are unique and extraordinary examples of a culture's ability to adapt and flourish in a harsh environmental setting. The basin has been used for thousands of years by nomadic groups of hunters and gathers (as evidenced by elusive PaleoIndian and Archaic cultural remains), sedentary ancestral Pueblo agriculturalists, and Spanish, American, and Indian peoples from the 16th century through the present.

The Chaco Canyon ruins were proclaimed a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907. Most of the monument's large "town sites" were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 and in 1980, the U.S. Congress redesignated the monument as the 33,989-acre "Chaco Culture National Cultural Park" and designated 33 outlying sites as "Chaco Culture Archeological Protection Sites"(Public Law 96-550). In 1995, Congress added 6 areas to the list of protection sites, bringing the total to 39 on 14,372 acres.

The park-- including Kin Bineola, Kin Ya'a, and Pueblo Pintado outliers--along with Aztec Ruins National Monument, also administered by the National Park Service, and selected outlier sites on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management are also on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Imminent Threats

As we stressed in the nomination of Chaco to the list of endangered monuments, the Chaco ruins face a number of dire threats, several of such an immediate nature that the very qualities that make Chaco unique are in danger of being lost. Although the types of threats stem from natural as well as human causes, the solutions to both types require human intervention--and soon. Among the naturally caused threats are water from summer thunderstorms that seeps into masonry joints and winter snow accumulations that melt and trickle down into the walls sections. Extreme temperature, wind storms, accumulation of sand in the wall, xeric plant species, and livestock all add to the threat. The National Park Service has documented in its recent strategic plan, "Vanishing Treasures," that the ruins are deteriorating at a rate which far exceeds the Service's efforts to maintain them.

Although the naturally-caused threats are extreme and the most immediately obvious, it is the human-created threats that may ultimately cause the most severe problems. These threats center around the adverse impacts of tourism and the lack of a comprehensive planning strategy among the various agencies and groups involved in the care and management of the archaeological resources. The ruins are extremely fragile and easily damaged by vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Although both types of traffic are heavily controlled through park policy, the sheer increase in the annual number of vehicles and people visiting the park results in accelerated deterioration. In response to increased visitation, the National Park Service has attempted to control visitor access and to keep up with ruins deterioration, but has fallen short due to budget limitations and factors relating to the sustaining capacity of the ruins themselves. The Park Service recently resorted to testing new techniques such as backfilling ruins. Backfilling, however, will drastically change the character of the visitor's experience and some archaeologists are concerned about the long-term effects of backfilling on the ruins themselves.

Road improvements pose an especially severe and imminent threat. Currently the direct routes into Chaco are unpaved. However, improvements in nearby roads in the basin have already increased access to the park and its environs; further improvements closer to the park could increase visitation exponentially. While most visitors are law-abiding, improved access brings with it the likelihood of inadvertent damage as well as deliberate site vandalism and looting in previously remote areas. Road improvements are not solely tied to tourism, but involve the region's economic development interests, health and safety concerns of local residents, and retrieval of energy resources by oil, natural gas, and coal companies. The result is the same. More people will visit the area endangering the ruins and stressing the ability of their owners to protect them. The intangible visitor experience is also threatened by development, looting, and over-visitation.

These problems are exacerbated by having many different federal, state, tribal, and private interests controlling the stewardship of these resources. No single agency is responsible for considering the environmental and cultural impacts of such projects. Road construction or resource development projects are planned by state and local agencies, by federal land management agencies, and by Indian tribal agencies, in response to needs that each group perceives as important to their interests. Although agencies do coordinate some projects and conduct environmental reviews, as required under federal and state statutes, there is no comprehensive context in which cumulative impacts to cultural resources can be assessed, conflicts resolved, and management strategies developed and implemented. In addition, rapidly expanding oil and gas development in the region is causing imminent threats to the ruins. Meanwhile, the concerned public is largely unaware of what is happening.

What's Needed

Several steps are needed to develop and implement an effective protection plan for Chaco. Following are four initial stages that we identified. Of these, only number 1 is addressed in the project proposal, based on the WMF's limited funding (which must be augmented by other sources of support, from cash or in-kind contributions). Additional sources of funds are needed for the other stages.

All interested parties help develop common goals and objectives for Chacoan ruins preservation (see description below).
This plan, agreed to by the interested parties involved in the Stage 1 ruins preservation strategy workshop, implements the results of the workshop and develops criteria for identifying and evaluating archaeological site deterioration.
CEHP Incorporated has joined the Partners in Parks to develop a workshop in masonry ruins preservation to develop a compendium of best practices on preservation techniques and a curriculum for the training of skilled masonry preservation crafts people. This program compliments stages 1 and 2 providing a solution to specific problems already known to exist for archaeological sites in the San Juan Basin and elsewhere in the world.
As part of Stage 1, opportunities will be identified for developing a citizens support organization, composed of both local stakeholders and others outside the area--scientists, conservation advocates, etc--to promote the protection of the park and the associated Chaco sites in the region. Funding will be sought to organize and promote such an organization.

Proposal for Stage 1

The proposal requested funding for stage 1, developing a consensus ruins preservation strategy. The project will: (1)Identify the intents, interests, and threats that will affect the ruins in the foreseeable future, (2) Develop strategies to avoid or mitigate negative impacts to the ruins, and (3)Explore implementation strategies to meet the interests of both public and private stakeholders. These stakeholders include private landowners or corporations, public and tribal agencies, and profit and non-profit interest groups.

The project will first identify and interview stakeholders and delineate their particular intents and interests. A facilitated workshop will be held to develop a broad-based strategy for addressing the problems facing the region's significant cultural resources. A workshop report will be prepared that describes and analyzes the strategies and alternatives discussed during the workshop and, after its distribution for review and comment, a final Consensus Strategy Report will be readied for all parties to sign.

What Next

We are seeking people and organizations and potential donors to help with these projects. To assure protection of Chaco could be a massive undertaking, of which this effort is merely a beginning. Anyone who would like to work on it is most welcomed.

To begin getting things underway, we want to go ahead and start forming a "Friends of Chaco" group that will draw upon residents of the area and as well as nationally to provide support, funding for projects, heighten visibility, and involve the public. We are seeking interested persons and organizations to participate in the project. The National Parks and Conservation Association is hosting a grassroots conference in and for the Southwest in Albuquerque, NM May 17-19 bring together park advocates and community leaders in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. The purpose is to share information, build networks and skills, and emphasize citizen responsibility for parks. We think this would be an excellent forum to stimulate interest in a friends' group for Chaco.

For information call 1-800-NAT-PARK, ext. 221 or


Dave Simon
Southwestern Director
National Park Conservation Association
Phone (505) 247-1221
FAX (505) 247-1222.

Return to the Chaco Canyon Overview.
Return to the Chaco Communications, Inc. home page.

Copyright © 1995, Chaco Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.