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Forest Service scoping Chimney Rock project

The Forest Service is currently considering a project that will involve removing the Chimney Rock Lookout Tower and undertaking additional site improvement projects at the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area (CRAA), located approximately 15 miles southwest of Pagosa Springs.

The project would improve the setting of multiple Pueblo II sites within greater Chimney Rock Area by removing the lookout tower, a structure which blocks observations of astronomical alignments.

The project would also enhance visitor experience by removing a non-functional (modern) restroom facility at the upper parking lot and repairing the (modern) stone wall around the upper parking lot. The modern wall would be capped with concrete, unifying the appearance of modern walls in this area and reducing future maintenance requirements.

The lookout tower is a reconstructed 1930’s-era fire lookout. The stone foundation has been modified since it was constructed in 1936, by the Civilian Conservation Corps; the cab is a 1988 reconstruction which is not faithful to the original design. The structure sits within the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, an area encompassing over 200 sites associated with the Pueblo II occupation of the area (A.D. 900-1125).

The Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is a world-class archaeological complex, recognized as the northeastern outlier of the Chacoan system. Many astronomical alignments have been recognized in the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area; alignments mark the lunar standstill, solstices, equinox, and other significant events. The lookout tower is located within 70 feet of a large Chacoan era Great House and blocks views of the geologic pinnacles known as Chimney and Companion Rocks from this structure, the premiere reconstructed site within the CRAA.

The location of the tower blocks views of many recognized Pueblo II astronomical alignments.The lookout tower detracts from the setting of multiple Pueblo II sites within the CRAA and the greater Chimney Rock area.

For this reason, removing the lookout tower is being analyzed. As part of the project, interpretive displays discussing the role of the historic lookout tower and fire suppression would be added near Chimney Rock interpretive cabin and lower parking lot.

Projects in the upper parking lot would be accomplished using hand tools and heavy equipment. The removal of the lookout tower, near the prehistoric Great House, would be accomplished using hand crews and helicopter(s); no heavy ground-based equipment would be employed during removal of the lookout tower.

Removal of the lookout tower would be monitored by an archaeologist to assure that the prehistoric site is not adversely impacted during tower removal. The lookout tower will be documented according to State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and federal standards prior to removal.

Peregrine falcons, a sensitive species, nest on Companion Rock, within view of the lookout tower. Removal of the tower will not take place between March 1 and August 1, such that nesting falcons are not disturbed by project work.

Removal of the restroom in the upper parking lot and repairs to the rock wall could begin as early as spring 2010. Removal of the lookout tower could begin as early as August 2010.

The overall project would improve the setting of the prehistoric site and enhance visitors’ ability to view astronomical alignments that are considered of major significance in the development and use of the greater Chimney Rock area during the Pueblo II period.

The district welcomes comments on this project proposal.