I have always been fascinated by the natural and cultural history of the southwest, specifically those in the four corners region (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico). My curiosity sparked when I began to learn more about the establishment of California in middle school through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Though I mostly learned about California (since I am from there), I was ambitious to learn and explore more about the other territories that were also involved in the treaty, such as Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Thanks to the Hispanic Access Foundation, I am currently pursuing my interests in the Southwest with the US Forest Service, specifically at Chimney Rock National Monument at the San Juan National Forest in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Similar to the Incan folxs down south in the Andes, Ancestral Puebloans (meaning the ancestors of Pueblo Nation Tribes) in the Southwest also settled on impressive high elevations, some being in the Rocky Mountains. Chimney Rock National Monument in Pagosa Springs, Colorado shares similar characteristics like that of Machu Picchu. Situated above 7,900 Feet in elevation, Ancestral Puebloans, around the period of the Pueblo II era (900 C.E- 1150 CE) migrated from Chaco Canyon (Around 90 Miles South of Pagosa Springs in the Heart of New Mexico) to settle on the High Mesa near the rocky pinnacles. More than 150 documented sites are recorded at the monument, the biggest attraction being The Great House Kiva which sits on top of the highest point of the mesa aligning with the rocky pinnacles. To the western world, the site is filled with mystery. What drove the Ancestral Puebloans to migrate from Chaco Canyon? How was the site even constructed with very scarce water sources on the mountain when the nearest river is 3 ½ miles below the mountain? Why did they abandoned the site and where did they go? To our tribal affiliates (which is about 25), however, they see it the opposite. Each tribe has their own belief and explanation in how their ancestors settled in Chimney Rock. More importantly, all tribes believe the site isn't abandoned but spiritually protected by their ancestors. Though these concepts are difficult for some westerners to understand, never the less, our tribal affiliates hold this site sacred and encourage the public to always treating it with respect. The monument opens for operation on May 15th and closes on September 30th.
Since my arrival to Pagosa Springs in January, I have been navigating various sectors of the Agency in the Forest Service, such as Range, Timber, Recreation, Wildlife Biology and Front Desk resources. In addition, I have also been working on translating brochures in Spanish and working on mobile applications such as the San Juan National Forest and Agents of Discovery. My goal with these apps is to connect more smartphone users to outdoor resources. Like Pokemon Go, Agents of Discovery is a kid's game app that teaches kids conservation and environmental education. Kids can launch the app at Chimney Rock and navigate the site with it by answering a series of trivia questions tailored around the flora, fauna and cultural artifacts of the monument.
If any Latinos in Colorado are interested, I can host Spanish Interpretative tours of the site. Come join me in Latino Conservation Week!
By: Jesse Portillo, intern, San Juan National Forest