Last year, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument received $2.40 per acre in federal funding. Mesa Verde National Park, in comparison, obtained more than $30.50 per acre.
With upwards of 30,000 archaeological sites across a 173,000-acre expanse, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument attracts some 50,000 visitors annually. Its headquarters, the Anasazi Heritage Center, is a world-class museum, despite operating on a shoestring budget.
“It’s unbelievable how little funding places like this receives,” said program director Diane McBride. “People tend to think that the government is taking care of things and everything is going to be fine, but that’s just the bare bones.”
In order for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and its Anasazi Heritage Center to exist and thrive, McBride said, outside support is essential. One recent donation will help enable schoolchildren to visit the center.
“We’ve noticed in recent years that fewer schools are able to take their kids on field trips,” said McBride. “This allows those schools to visit us.”
“The Dolores School District virtually eliminated field trips from their budget, and we wanted to help set up a program to transport school kids a short distance to the Anasazi Heritage Center,” Empire Electric Association general manager Neal Stephens explained further.
Upon hearing the news, Empire’s board of directors made a $1,000 one-time start-up donation to help launch a new Southwest Colorado Cannons Alliance “Bucks for Buses” program for educational field trips.
“Empire’s board is committed to the communities within our certificated area, and they have identified ‘education’ as one critical area they support,” said Stephens.
The Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance (SCCA) is dedicated solely to helping fund both the center and the monument. Earlier this summer, the SCAA received a larger $20,000 grant from the Conservation Lands Foundation, which helps fund volunteer curating efforts at the Anasazi Heritage Center.
Less than a fifth of the more than 3.5 million archeological items contained at the Anasazi Heritage Center have been catalogued. Volunteers, who must undergo extensive training and background checks, are needed to help dig through the majority of the collection to properly identify the remaining specimens.
“If it’s not catalogued, then it just becomes stuff,” McBride said. “If it’s catalogued, then archeologist and other scientist can come in to research the items.”
Archeology is moving away from field excavations, and instead shifting towards existing collections. McBride said shining fresh lights on established collections with new research questions could gleam new information.
“Not a lot of information is needed from new archeological items,” McBride said. “What we need is more information from older collections.”
Dozens of researchers from across the globe trek to the Anasazi Heritage Center annually to examine, for example, whether or not various prehistoric ceramic mugs were used for ceremonial or everyday uses. One fresh face recently studying ancient pottery from Sand Canyon is a graduate student from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
“I’m looking for teaching and learning traditions by studying how the pots were executed,” said Jonathon Schwartz, a self-proclaimed history buff.
By examining a list of previously researched traits, Schwartz is hoping to discover more about the skill and cognitive ability of ancient painters for his master’s thesis.
“Places like the Anasazi Heritage Center allow people to ask questions about the past and connect to the past,” he added.
While the jury is still out on why ancient civilizations migrated out of the area around the 12th Century, McBride believes additional research on those historic cultures could potentially reveal clues that help to sustain future generations in the Four Corners region.
“There are lessons we could learn on how to care for this precious and precarious region,” she said.
In addition to preservation efforts, the SCCA grant will also help fund the monument’s cultural site stewardship program. Approximately 50 volunteer site stewards, who must also undertake specific training, are responsible for monitoring some 70 different sites for vandalism, rodent burrowing and natural erosion, for example.
“We’re hoping to upgrade the site stewardship program, which means more sites and volunteers,” said McBride. “We want to be able to key in and examine what happens to the sites over time.”
Local officials from Kinder Morgan have stepped up to assist the Canyons of the Ancient National Monument, recently donating $10,000 and pledging additional funds to conduct a 7,500-acre block archeological survey in the northwest portion of the monument. The survey could unearth even more, McBride said.
“Our resources are locally abundant, but globally scarce,” she added. “We have more archeological sites per square mile in the Four Corners region than any other place across North America.”
While Kinder Morgan is currently exploring for carbon dioxide acres in Montezuma County, the company also remains faithful to local residents.
“Kinder Morgan is committed to supporting the communities where we live and work,” said Coy Bryant, manager of operations in Cortez. “Most of our employees are native to the Southwest Colorado area, and as part of this community we feel it is very important to give back.”
While recent generous gifts have helped, McBride fears future funding woes, citing that federal sequestration could impact both the center and the monument, specifically in regard to filling vacant personnel positions.
“As time goes on, I think we will see less and less funding from the government,” she said.
McBride is hopeful for continued outside financial support, explaining she wants to help promote the “phenomenal resources” located in Montezuma County’s backyard.
“It’s extremely important for local support, because the local community will need to rely more and more on tourism,” she added. “If local businesses support us, then we will be able to help support them. We’re all in this together.”
The Anasazi Heritage Center was formed to serve as a federal repository for artifacts discovered during the Dolores Archeological Project (DAP). Launched in the late 1970s, the DAP collected some 1.5 million relics prior to the Dolores River being dammed and flooded to create McPhee Reservoir.
Declared a national monument in 2000, Canyons of the Ancients contains the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States, representing ancestral Puebloan and other Native American cultures.
Cultural sites on the monument include sweat lodges, kivas, shrines and petroglyphs. Reservoirs with stone and earthen dams, including spillways and numerous check dams, also dot the landscape, and stone towers, which may have been sentry posts or astronomical observatories, are found scattered throughout.
“Locals could take a family vacation right here in their own back yard,” McBride said. “The Four Corners is the center of the universe.”