Book by Amron Gravett


Gravett, Amron, and Christine Robinette. Chimney Rock National Monument. Arcadia Publishing, May 2014. ISBN 978-1-4671-3161-2

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Review: Four Corners Free Press, June 2014

Table of Contents

Foreword by Glenn Raby
1: Chimney Rock’s Magnificence: Geography and Geology
2: Living on the Land: Then and Now
3: The Diggers: Archaeologists Make Their Mark
4: Evidence Exposed: Archaeological Sites and Artifacts
5: Dedicated Stewards: Volunteers and the Forest Service


On the autumnal equinox, September 21, 2012, President Obama signed a proclamation creating the Chimney Rock National Monument. The U.S. Forest Service collaborated with tribal, community, federal and state partners to enact the legislation necessary to manifest the protection of this unique historic, cultural and educational site.

The Chimney Rock National Monument encompasses 4,726 acres of the San Juan National Forest. The care of the cultural resources of Chimney Rock as well as Peterson Mesa has been placed under the management of the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.

Located in the southwest corner of Colorado, the mesa with protruding Chimney Rock and Companion Rock watch over the profound architectural dwellings and buildings of the Ancestral Puebloans. It is not hard to imagine why it has been called America’s Machu Picchu.

Geological fossil evidence indicates the spires were formed 100,000 years ago, when a vast inland sea retreated, followed by intense volcanic eruptions and then a glaciation. The glaciers receded around 12,000 years ago and allowed human exploration, leading them to a fertile valley capable of sustaining dwellers.

Author Amron Gravett looking west over the Chimney Rock Great House
Author Amron Gravett looking west over the Great House at Chimney Rock National Monument, CO

Understanding Chimney Rock’s connection with Chaco Canyon has been the foundation of archaeological interpretations since the first official dig in 1921. There are nearly 200 outlier communities of Chaco Canyon all characterized by certain artifacts, a great house, great kiva and roads connected to Chaco. The great houses are planned structures complete with architectural symmetry and enclosed kivas. The location of the Chimney Rock mesa ruins suggests both defensive and ceremonial purposes. Commerce between the outliers of Chacoan culture and Chaco Canyon itself is evidenced. It may have been used as a timber camp, hunting base, ceremonial center, astronomical observatory or for other reasons.

The Chacoans used astronomical markers to orient the major lunar standstill between the two pinnacles. Today as in times past, the moon rises between the two towers at the northernmost transit of the moon. The lunar standstills in 1076 and 1093 coincided with the construction of the Great House Pueblo atop the mesa. Watching the sky was important for many reasons including when to plant and harvest. They were likely able to predict the summer and winter solstices, the fall and spring equinoxes. To be sure, the Crab Nebula Supernova of 1054 had a powerful effect on the sky watchers as well.

Author Christine Robinette at the gated entrance with Chimney and Companion Rocks in the background
Author Christine Robinette at the gated entrance with Chimney and Companion Rocks in the background

The Chacoan innovative period at Chimney Rock was from 900 to 1150. Prior to the Chacoan era, the San Juan River Basin was home to a number of inhabitants. They lived along the San Juan River, Stollsteimer Creek and Piedra River. They probably spoke different languages from the Chacoans. They were an available resource to the Chacoan endeavor providing assistance in building the dwellings and may have participated in ceremonies.  These locals lived in close proximity to the Chacoans and were likely greatly influenced by them.

There are many questions as to the departure of these peoples but it is believed that those who were here are the ancestors of the pueblo peoples that are scattered through the southwest. Hopi, Taos, Zuni, and other Puebloans consider Chimney Rock as a place of origin and some continue to hold ceremonies here. For the past few decades, stewards of Chimney Rock have consulted with a council made up of 26 tribes to provide management and resource use guidance.

This site has attracted anthropologists from the early 1920s to the present.  The architecture, artifacts, and evidence of a life lived here have brought explorers to uncover some of the 200 sites that are located on the mesa. Most research has been on the excavations of the dwellings at the top of the mesa and includes the Great Kiva (1084) and Pit House Site (1077) on the Lower Mesa, as well as the Ridge House (1078), the Guard House and the Great Pueblo (1078-1093) on the Upper Mesa at 7,600 feet in elevation. A great many anthropologists, archaeologists, and scholars have contributed to our understanding of Chimney Rock’s importance and history.

Mystery writers have used the history and terrain of Chimney Rock to provide settings for their books. Unable to resist the vistas, photographers and artists throughout time have captured the landscape as well.

Authors and librarians Amron (left) and Christine (middle) meet with librarian Allison Colbourne at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture's Laboratory of Anthropology while researching the book, Chimney Rock National Monument.
Authors and librarians Amron Gravett (left) and Christine Robinette (middle) meet with librarian Allison Colbourne at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s Laboratory of Anthropology while researching the book, Chimney Rock National Monument.

Today, there are a variety of recreational activities allowed at the Chimney Rock National Monument. Some of those include archaeological visitation, astronomical and geological special events, mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) and its earlier manifestations have been a dynamic force in bringing this treasure to public notice. For over 40 years, dedicated volunteers have joined archaeological researchers in caring for this site and worked to make it available to the public for educational and inspirational acknowledgment. With the recent national monument proclamation, the USFS and CRIA are working with local groups in efforts to offer new and dynamic ways to serve the public in the appreciation of this remarkable manifestation of natural and human innovation.

Want to know more?


  1. Eddy, Frank W. Archaeological Investigations at Chimney Rock Mesa: 1970-1972. Boulder, Colo: Colorado Archaeological Society, 1977.
  2. Houle, Marcy C. Wings for my Flight: The Peregrine Falcons of Chimney Rock. Boulder, Colo: Pruett Publishing, 1999.
  3. Jeancon, Jean Allard. Archaeological Research in the Northeastern San Juan Basin of Colorado During the Summer of 1921. Denver, Colo: The State Historical and Natural History Society of Colorado and the University of Denver, 1922.
  4. Lekson, Stephen H. A History of the Ancient Southwest. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008.
  5. Lister, Florence C. In The Shadow of the Rocks: Archaeology of the Chimney Rock District in Southwest Colorado. Durango, Colo: Durango Herald Small Press, 2011.
  6. Malville, J. McKim. A Guide to Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest. 3D Press, 2012.
  7. Malville, J. McKim, ed. Chimney Rock: The Ultimate Outlier. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004.
  8. Richardson, Helen L. editor.Visions of Chimney Rock: A Photographic Interpretation of the Place and Its People. Montrose, Colo: Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2006.
  9. Roberts, Frank H. H. Early Pueblo Ruins in the Piedra District, Southwestern Colorado. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 96. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1930.
  10. Sutcliffe, Ron. Moon Tracks: A Guide to Understanding Some of the Patterns We See with an Emphasis on Southwest Ancient Puebloan Cultures. Pagosa Springs, Colo: Moonspiral Press, 2006.


  1. Chimney Rock National Monument website (Chimney Rock Interpretive Association) –
  2. Major Lunar Standstill
  3. UC Boulder Great House excavations (2009)
  4. An inviting history of an intriguing site,” by Sonja Horoshko, Four Corners Free Press, June 2014.

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