Why I became a Chimney Rock volunteer


By Ernie O’Toole
Chimney Rock Interpretive Association

I moved to Pagosa Springs in December of 2014, after “living in the woods” of North Park, Colo., for most of the previous 21 years. I had previously worked seasonally with the U.S. Forest Service in North Park and had it in my mind to do some volunteer work for them here in Pagosa. Upon looking into that possibility, I found out about Chimney Rock National Monument and its need for volunteers. 

I had been intrigued by the ancestral Puebloans and their extensive civilization in the Four Corners area ever since my first visit to Mesa Verde in the early ‘70s. I had read a number of books on the subject and had visited several of their archaeological sites in the ensuing years, and although I was not an expert by any means, the subject still really held my interest. 

I attended the training sessions in April and my enthusiasm again peaked. I immediately decided I would like to be a tour guide. I like to interact with the public and to be able to pass on what is known and hypothesized about the ancestral Puebloans to the public and I feel that it is a valuable public service. It conveys respect, understanding and acceptance of different peoples. It would be a means to give back to society. 

The training that I received through the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) was excellent. I really enjoyed reading about the latest findings about these people and was astonished to learn just how advanced they really were. The training involved both the latest scientific analyses of archaeological findings and Native American interpretations of who these people were. 

I am particularly grateful to my guide mentor, John Richardson, and all of the other “seasoned” guides whom I “shadowed” throughout my training. My own research on the subject brought me to Chaco Canyon, the Canyon of the Ancients, back to Mesa Verde, Aztec Ruins, Comb Ridge, Moon House and some of the traditional pueblos in New Mexico. I am back on a quest for learning more and more about these fascinating people, not just for my own edification, but to be able to share this knowledge with the public.

Another rewarding aspect about being a tour guide at Chimney Rock is interacting with the other volunteers. I have met and become friends with a number of wonderful people who enhance my life here in Pagosa Springs. That, along with meeting the interesting people who visit Chimney Rock, kind of makes it complete. I look forward to continuing as a volunteer for the foreseeable future and becoming more involved with CRIA. 

CRIA invites community members to join us for the free annual Chimney Rock Interpretive Association Volunteer Training on April 24 at the Tennyson Building Event Center located at 197 Navajo Trail Drive. CRIA offers a great, in-depth training program in a fun environment to anyone interested in joining our amazing team of volunteers. 

Attendees must check in for training between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Lunch will be provided. As per current restrictions for Archuleta County, masks must be worn indoors when not eating. After lunch, attendees will drive to Chimney Rock National Monument for on-site training until approximately 3:30 p.m. Please call the CRIA office at (970) 731-7133 to register. After training, new volunteers will receive extended training with a veteran volunteer at the site until they are comfortable in their new positions.

CRIA is a nonprofit organization which operates the interpretive program at Chimney Rock National Monument under a participating agreement with the USDA Forest Service/San Juan National Forest. For more information about the Chimney Rock 2021 season of events, please visit www.chimneyrockco.org.