Team effort restores the BLM-managed Guadalupe Ruin to its original glory

Story by Sean I. Daugherty, Archaeologist, and Cynthia Herhahn, Archaeologist. Photos courtesy of Garry Joe, National Park Service Restoration Specialist.

Atop an isolated mesa in the middle of Rio Puerco Valley, New Mexico sits a thousand-year-old 50-room masonry structure known today as Guadalupe Ruin. With clear architectural ties to the National Park Service-managed World Heritage Site of Chaco Canyon 60 miles to the northwest, this eastern-most Chacoan Outlier, managed by the BLM, is a popular destination for visitors willing to hike the steep path to the top of the mesa.

View from the Guadalupe Ruin.
View from the Guadalupe Ruin.

Once there, visitors can see two kivas and several rooms that were excavated in the 1970s and 1980s. Kivas are architecturally unique rooms or structures built by Ancestral Puebloans and their modern descendants in the southwest that served important ceremonial and social functions. 

After the kivas and several rooms were excavated in the 1970s and 1980s, they were subsequently stabilized. Stabilized masonry requires maintenance, which the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office has done through intergovernmental agreements with the National Park Service Chaco Culture National Historical Park Stabilization Crew over the years.

In 2005, the Chaco Stabilization Crew spent eight weeks restoring the stabilization done in past endeavors. Their efforts endured for more than a decade. However, years of wind, rain and visitation had not been kind to the ruins. One of the eastern most walls had been knocked over—inadvertently, one hopes, by a visitor.

As of 2019, the efforts undertaken in 2005 had deteriorated to the point that stabilization maintenance was again necessary. Once again, the team from Chaco Canyon descended upon, or rather ascended, the steep slopes of Guadalupe Mesa with trowels and hundreds of pounds of water and mortar; cameras and note pads. The restoration work began in August of 2020 with funding provided through the BLM.

Guadalupe Ruin before the restoration efforts showing a partially fallen wall.
Guadalupe Ruin before the restoration efforts.

The five-person team spent six weeks working on the Chaco-style masonry, bringing it back to its original glory. In total, the team spent 1,200 hours conducting restoration efforts that included re-chinking and capping the stonework at the site. The restoration work was completed at the end of September 2020.

One of the restored walls after the Guadalupe Ruin restoration work was completed.
Guadalupe Ruin after the restoration work was completed.

Now, visitors to this remote area can see and appreciate the masterful stone masonry work of the Ancestral Pueblo people as it likely appeared 1,000 years ago.