A mix of excitement and pride emanates from Canyons of the Ancients National Monument Manager Marietta Wetherill Eaton as she prepares to retire in January after a four-decade career working in federal public lands and archaeology.
“Working for our nation’s federal lands has been a real honor,” she said. “I hope I’ve added to the foundation of this monument’s amazing cultural landscape and museum for the next manager to build upon.”
The 176,000-acre monument contains more than 6,000 recorded archaeological sites, with a total estimated at 30,000. It was used by the Ancestral Puebloan culture for 10,000 years, and modern Native American descendants retain their connection to the land. Its headquarters is the Canyons of the Ancients Visitors Center and Museum, west of Dolores, also managed by Eaton.
Eaton is a descendant of the famous Wetherill family, the first pioneers who studied the archaeology of the Four Corners in the 19th century. Her great-grandfather was Richard Wetherill, who is known for revealing ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and for identifying the distinct Basketmaker culture of the Ancestral Puebloans.
“Manager of Canyons of the Ancients was the first federal job I really sought out, and when I was hired in 2011, it felt like coming home to my roots,” Eaton said.
“It’s has been a privilege to conserve this culturally rich landscape – home to 26 tribes and open to the public to explore the outdoors and human history.”
Eaton began her career in 1980 as a district archaeologist for the Sequoia National Forest. She then worked for the Kaibab National Forest, was the zone archaeologist for the Sedona, Arizona, federal lands area, and served the cultural and sciences planner for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Before landing the Canyons monument job, she was the science adviser for the National Conservation Lands in Washington, D.C.
As manager, Eaton said she is proud of continuing multiple use and working landscape aspects of the monument.
Oil and gas operations continue as they did before the monument was proclaimed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, she said. The recreation has boosted the local economy, and the archaeology has spurred new research and awareness of the region’s rich Native American past.
“It is an outdoor museum that offers the public opportunity for discovery,” Eaton said. “There are safe trails, but the landscape gets very challenging off the beaten path, so you better know what you are doing.”
Eaton said one of her favorite parts of the job was working with the 26 tribes that have connections to monument lands and archaeological sites. Through the consultation process, the monument regularly meets with tribes on the monument to better understand and protect ruins. The effort has resulted in more comprehensive ethnographic studies that are ongoing.
“The tribes bring intellect and heart to these cultural sites and show us meaning that comes from having that ancestral connection,” Eaton said. “What we hear from tribal members is that they want the public to know that they are still here, and that the monument holds the footsteps of their ancestors.”
Eaton and her staff also began the popular special exhibit section of the museum. The idea was to highlight topics such as Native American-inspired art and wildlife to attract more visitors.
The curation tours, which offer a glimpse of the museum’s vast archives of stunning archaeological artifacts and historical documents, also have grown in attendance, Eaton said.
Under Eaton, the monument grew by 12,000 acres as it bought private inholdings from volunteer sellers. The popular Sand Canyon area was improved, and a new trail was added. A new parking lot plan for Sand Canyon on County Road G also has been approved and is awaiting funding. Still pending are renewing the Yellow Jacket and Flodine grazing permits on the monument that are under an extended environmental review.
Eaton said working more closely with Montezuma County on monument issues has led to an improved relationship and better management.
“I would have never thought starting out I’d end up as a monument manager. It has been an exciting and fulfilling job, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of the monument now that I have the time,” she said with a smile.
A new monument manager has not been named.