The other day I was going through my photos of a trip I took in 2005. I went on a tour with a wonderful organization called Crow Canyon Archaeological Center located in Cortez. Colorado. They have many educational programs and also lead fantastic tours. This one was called Chaco Canyon and the Keresan Pueblo World. We started in Albuquerque and traveled to Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico as well as going to Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, and Santo Domingo Pueblo.
Chaco Canyon was a major center of Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. The Chacoan sites are part of the homeland of Pueblo Indian peoples of New Mexico, the Hopi Indians of Arizona, and the Navajo Indians of the Southwest. As the Park Service says: "Remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, astronomy, artistic achievements, and distinctive architecture, it served as a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area for 400 years--unlike anything before or since."
Chaco was made a National Monument in 1949, a national park in 1980, and in 1987 Chaco Culture National Historical Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining a select list of protected areas "whose outstanding natural and cultural resources form the common inheritance of all mankind."
This was my second trip to Chaco, and both times I camped in the no frills campsite in the park (cold water, no showers, no shade). The beauty, however, is layers deep and the nights spectacular as there are literally no lights for miles and the moon, the stars and the visible planets shine so bright that astromomers come from all over to observe.
So what the heck does this have to do with the national budget? The Bush administration has cut back funding for national parks to make way for increased funding of Homeland Security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Parks are having to absorb cuts of 20 to 30% which is devastating enough to the quality of the parks, but when added to the fact that there is a backlog of projects in the parks of up to $5 billion, it is truly an affront to our great natural treasures.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association (www.npca.org) Chaco's experienced restoration experts are retiring and the park has insufficient funding to hire qualified, full-time staff to replace them. The park struggles to meet visitor demand for interpretive services, and does not have enough staff to properly care for trails and do all the maintenance needed on the archaeological sites.
When I went on the Crow Canyon tour I was shocked to learn that sites I had seen on my first trip had been filled in - or would be soon - with sand on the lower level because there was not the funding to fully protect them. So the sand would be the best way to preserve the fragile stones. This is a good and loving decision given the circumstances, but a sad one for those of us who want to learn about the amazing ancient Puebloan peoples. And those of us who want to have a sane use of our national resources.