Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
BLM>Colorado>National Monuments>Canyons of the Ancients>Monument Background & History
Print Page
Monument Background & History

Painted kiva, first excavation, 1932. Field Museum #75656 Richard Wetherill
History and Process

History and Intent of the Proclamation for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Landscape-Level History of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument



Public discussions regarding protection of this area date back to 1894 when the Salt Lake Times ran a story detailing interest in protecting the region. In 1979, a bill was introduced in Congress to designate the area a National Conservation Area. This bill was never passed. In the spring of 1999, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt began a dialogue with the local communities concerning proper management and protection of the area. The Southwest Resource Advisory Council held five public meetings, consulted with local governments, and forwarded management recommendations to the Secretary in August 1999. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell introduced new National Conservation Area legislation in February 2000 (S. 2034), but he suspended all action on his bill on March 23, 2000. Secretary Babbitt recommended to the President in May, 2000 that the area be designated as a National Monument.




Section 2 of the Antiquities Act, 16 U.S.C. 431, authorizes the President to establish as national monuments "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States...."

More information on the Antiquities Act

Objects of Historic or Scientific Interest

The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is located in southwest Colorado. Elevations within the monument range from about 4,900 feet to about 7,500 feet above sea level. The outer boundaries of the area encompass approximately 183,000 acres of land, approximately 164,000 acres of which are in federal ownership and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Containing the highest known density of archaeological sites in the Nation, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds evidence of cultures and traditions spanning thousands of years. This area, with its intertwined natural and cultural resources, is a rugged landscape, a quality that greatly contributes to the protection of its scientific and historic objects. The monument offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe, study, and experience how cultures lived and adapted over time in the American Southwest.

The complex landscape and remarkable cultural resources of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument have been a focal point for archaeological interest for over 125 years. Archaeological and historic objects such as cliff dwellings, villages, great kivas, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, check dams, reservoirs, rock art sites, and sweat lodges are spread across the landscape. More than five thousand of these archaeologically important sites have been recorded, and thousands more await documentation and study. The Mockingbird Mesa area has over forty sites per square mile, and several canyons in that area hold more than three hundred sites per square mile.

People have lived and labored to survive among these canyons and mesas for thousands of years, from the earliest known hunters crossing the area 10,000 years ago or more, through Ancestral Puebloan farmers, to the Ute, Navajo, and European settlers whose descendants still call this area home. There is scattered evidence that Paleo-Indians used the region on a sporadic basis for hunting and gathering until around 7500 B.C. During the Archaic period, generally covering the next six thousand years, occupation of the Four Corners area was dominated by hunters and gatherers.

By about 1500 B.C., the more sedentary Basketmakers spread over the landscape. As Ancestral Northern Puebloan people occupied the area around 750 A.D., farming began to blossom, and continued through about 1300 A.D., as the area became part of a much larger prehistoric cultural region that included Mesa Verde to the southeast. Year-round villages were established, originally consisting of pit house dwellings, and later evolving to well-recognized cliff-dwellings. Many archaeologists now believe that throughout this time span, the Ancestral Northern Puebloan people periodically aggregated into larger communities and dispersed into smaller community units. Specifically, during Pueblo I (about 700-900 A.D.) the occupation and site density in the monument area increased. Dwellings tended to be small, with three or four rooms. Then during Pueblo II (about 900-1150 A.D.), settlements were diminished and highly dispersed. Late in Pueblo II and in early Pueblo III, around 1150 A.D., the size and number of settlements again increased and residential clustering began. Later pueblos were larger multi-storied masonry dwellings with forty to fifty rooms. For the remainder of Pueblo III (1150-1300 A.D.), major aggregation occurred in the monument, typically at large sites at the heads of canyons. One of these sites includes remains of about 420 rooms, 90 kivas, a great kiva, and a plaza, covering more than ten acres in all. These villages were wrapped around the upper reaches of canyons and spread down onto talus slopes, enclosed year-round springs and reservoirs, and included low, defensive walls. The changes in architecture and site planning reflected a shift from independent households to a more communal lifestyle.

Farming during the Puebloan period was affected by population growth and changing climate and precipitation patterns. As the population grew, the Ancestral Puebloans expanded into increasingly marginal areas. Natural resources were compromised and poor soil and growing conditions made survival increasingly difficult. When dry conditions persisted, Pueblo communities moved to the south, southwest, and southeast, where descendants of these Ancestral Puebloan peoples live today.

Soon after the Ancestral Puebloans left the monument area, the nomadic Ute and Navajo took advantage of the natural diversity found in the variable topography by moving to lower areas, including the monument’s mesas and canyons, during the cooler seasons. A small number of forked stick hogans, brush shelters, and wickiups are the most obvious remnants of this period of occupation.

The natural resources and spectacular land forms of the monument help explain why past and present cultures have chosen to live in the area. The geology of the monument evokes the very essence of the American Southwest. Structurally part of the Paradox Basin, from a distance the landscape looks deceptively benign. From the McElmo Dome in the southern part of the monument, the land slopes gently to the north, giving no indication of its true character. Once inside the area, however, the geology becomes more rugged and dissected. Rising sharply to the north of McElmo Creek, the McElmo Dome itself is buttressed by sheer sandstone cliffs, with mesa tops rimmed by caprock, and deeply incised canyons.

The monument is home to a wide variety of wildlife species, including unique herpetological resources. Crucial habitat for the Mesa Verde nightsnake, long-nosed leopard lizard, and twin-spotted spiny lizard can be found within the monument in the area north of Yellow Jacket Canyon. Peregrine falcons have been observed in the area, as have golden eagles, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, and northern harriers. Game birds like Gambel’s quail and mourning dove are found throughout the monument both in dry, upland habitats, and in lush riparian habitat along the canyon bottoms.

The area within the monument was established as the Anasazi Area of Critical Environmental Concern in the BLM’s 1985 San Juan-San Miguel Resource Management Plan because of its internationally significant cultural resources. Several sites that are similar in character and cultural affiliation to sites within the monument were previously designated as Hovenweep National Monument in 1923 (Proclamation 1654 of March 2, 1923, Proclamation 2924 of April 26, 1951, and Proclamation 2998 of November 20, 1952).

The area has been evaluated for its wilderness characteristics under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Approximately 25,000 acres within the monument are within the Cahone Canyon, Cross Canyon, and Squaw/Papoose Wilderness Study Areas. The documentation of this area assembled in the wilderness inventory and study process has identified many of the objects of scientific and historic interest within the monument area.

Land Area Reserved for the Proper Care and Management of the Objects to be Preserved

The Antiquities Act authorizes the President, as part of his declaration of a national monument, to reserve land, "the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected." 16 U.S.C. § 431. The area proposed for reservation has been carefully delineated, based on review of available information, to meet the goals of effectively caring for and managing the objects in perpetuity.

The area includes the archaeological, geological, and biological objects identified in the Proclamation and the Canyons of the Ancients Bibliography. The area of the monument is based on the conservation needs of the objects to be protected. Some of these objects, such as the biological resources, are present throughout the entire monument, while the archaeological resources are in discrete locations throughout the monument. Many objects, particularly the archaeological resources, depend for their scientific value on their location at various sites or elevations.

Preservation of such objects requires, among other things, protection of enough land to maintain the conditions that have made their continued existence possible. The scientific value of many of the objects within the monument requires preservation of areas large enough to maintain the objects and their interactions. For example, while archaeological sites are by definition identifiable discrete concentrations on the landscape, most of their significance stems from the relationships of such sites when considered in a much larger comparative context. Individual sites are viewed as elements in community patterns, settlement patterns, or regional populations of sites. Evaluation of specific sites requires adequate knowledge of these larger local and regional patterns on the landscape. Thus, protection of the aggregate area is necessary for proper care of the objects. Management of a patchwork of reserved lands would be impractical, as it would make it more difficult to adequately care for the objects, reduce options for resource management and lead to inconsistent resource management standards for overlapping resources. In sum, a smaller area would undermine proper care and management of the monument.  





There are several significant aspects of the Proclamation. First, it reserves only the federal lands in the area, because the Antiquities Act applies only to objects of historic or scientific interest "that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States." 16 U.S.C. § 431.

Second, the Proclamation is subject to valid existing rights, including any relevant rights the Ute Indians may have under the Brunot Agreement of 1874 (April 29, 1874). Thus, to the extent a person or entity has valid existing rights in the federal lands or resources within the area, the Proclamation respects their rights. The exercise of such rights, however, can be regulated in order to protect the purposes of the monument.

Third, the Proclamation appropriates and withdraws the federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of the monument from entry, location, sale, or other disposition under the public land laws, including but not limited to withdrawal from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral leasing, other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of the monument, and except for oil and gas (including carbon dioxide) leasing as described below. This withdrawal prevents the location of new mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law, and prevents the Secretary of the Interior from exercising discretion under the mineral leasing acts and related laws to lease or sell federal minerals, except for oil and gas as described below, within the boundaries of the monument.

Approximately 80 percent of the federal lands within the monument have already been leased for oil and gas (including carbon dioxide) and development is already occurring. This development has had some impacts on the landscape, but it has not been sufficient to disqualify the objects of scientific and historic interest from protection under the Antiquities Act. Monument lands remain open to continued oil and gas (including carbon dioxide) development under existing leases, under current lease restrictions and BLM regulations. The Proclamation allows new leases to be issued, but only for the purpose of either protecting against drainage, or promoting conservation of oil and gas resources in a common reservoir now being produced under existing leases. Also, the Proclamation directs the Secretary to manage development, subject to valid existing rights, so as not to create any new impacts that interfere with the proper care and management of the objects protected by the Proclamation

Fourth, the Proclamation does not reserve water resources of the area under federal law pursuant to the so-called Winters doctrine. The proclamation directs the Secretary of the Interior to work with appropriate state authorities to ensure that any water resources needed for monument purposes are available.






Management by the Bureau of Land Management

The federal lands in the area described in the Proclamation are currently under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior. BLM manages the land pursuant to its basic organic authorities, the primary one being the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).

The Proclamation has the Secretary of the Interior manage the monument through the BLM under its existing authorities, but subject to the overriding purpose of protecting the objects described in the Proclamation. The establishment of the monument thus constitutes an overlay on the management regime otherwise applicable to lands managed by the BLM. It limits the management discretion that the BLM would otherwise have by mandating protection of the historic and scientific objects within the national monument.

The designation of these lands as part of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has no effect on the Wilderness Study Area status of the area. For example, any new mineral leases in Wilderness Study Areas will continue to contain surface occupancy restrictions as required by Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. It will also have no effect on Congressional action to designate lands within the monument as wilderness. Congress has, in fact, many times in the past designated wilderness within existing national monuments. The Wilderness Act of 1964 serves some values (e.g., outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation) that are not addressed in the Antiquities Act of 1906, which as noted earlier, serves to protect "objects of historic or scientific interest." Section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act expressly acknowledges that wilderness areas "may...contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, education...or historic value," and section 4(b) directs that wilderness areas "shall be devoted to the public purposes" of, among others, "scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use."

There are four units of the Hovenweep National Monument (approximately 400 acres) scattered within the monument’s boundary. These sites are not included in the monument and will continue to be managed by the National Park Service.