Alternate Perceptions Magazine, October 2015
Chimney Rock and Its Companion - A Spiritual Outpost
by: Jeanne Gripp
Chimney Rock is now a National Monument, a place with deep spiritual connections, remarkable geologic formations, and centuries of history. Not so different from how it was seen long ago by the people who inhabited the region. Scientists believe that Chimney Rock was a spiritual outpost of the Chacoan Culture which was centered at Chaco Canyon, 90 miles to the south, in New Mexico. Early excavations point to the area being inhabited by a Puebloan culture as far back as 900 AD, with more primitive cultures (hunter-gatherer) existing in the area prior to that. But Chimney Rock isn't known for its ruins of ancient pueblos but for its numerous archaeoastronomical sites.
The Peoples who lived in this area, as well as other locales in the American Southwest, are thought to be 'primitive' in their day to day lives and beliefs. Yet the culture who inhabited this region had observed the sky and the transit of the heavenly bodies which reside there on a daily basis for decades. Knowing when the equinoxes and solstices occurred were important to ancient peoples, as it helped them plan the cultivation and harvesting of the crops they grew as well as the migrations of the herds. Their lives revolved around the celestial bodies they could see in the sky. The surrounding mountain peaks made a great landscape in which to make observations of the passing of the sun, moon, and stars. The significant placement of the two lone sentinels of Chimney Rock and Companion Rock was noticeable from Peterson Mesa located to the west. From this location, the sun rises between the profiles of the two rock pillars. From late January to late June, as the sun moves across the sky, the first rays of the morning sun fall on a series of buildings on Peterson Mesa. This illumination marked the passage of time roughly from the Winter Solstice to the Summer Solstice from different buildings which served as calendrical markers or observation spots. A two story Chacoan Pueblo can be found on Peterson Mesa. From this location the sun rises between the chimneys five days before the Autumn Equinox and five days after the Vernal Equinox. The timing of these events would have been of importance to the people who lived here for the preparations of festivals and ceremonies. The full moon would have risen between these rock chimneys during the times of the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. During the Solstices, the moon would have risen in the gap of the pillars during its waning and waxing phases. It would also have been at this location that an eclipse of the moon would have been observed over the course of the area’s inhabitation.
But the astronomical event for which Chimney Rock is most known is the Major Lunar Standstill. The MLS is actually a cycle which the moon goes through every 18.6 years. The moon wobbles as it orbits the Earth. This wobble causes the moon to rise at different locations on the horizon over a period of time. The moon rise will go from north to south and then head back north again. At the end of each N/S or S/N phase, the moon will pause for a period of roughly three years and rise at the same spot on the horizon. This pause is called the Major Lunar Standstill. The most recent MLS was in 2004 and lasted for 3 years. The next MLS will begin in 2021.
The people who lived near Chimney Rock observed this celestial parade of heavenly bodies over the centuries. They built a Chacoan-style Great House Pueblo atop the mesa near Chimney Rock to observe it. When viewed from this structure, the two rock chimneys are slightly offset from each other, creating a narrow window through which the sky could be observed. During the MLS, at sunset close to the time of the Winter Solstice, the full moon can be seen in that narrow window created by the stone pillars. The Great House Pueblo is an archaeoastronomical site in itself. The sun rise, during the Summer Solstice, is centered on the northerly east/west wall of the Great Pueblo House. This can be seen when standing at a stone basin found 2,000 feet below and to the southwest of the Great Pueblo. This basin has been carved out of solid bedrock and lines up with this northerly east/west wall. When standing at this same basin, the Crab Nebula Supernova could have been seen aligned with the southerly point of the Great House. This Supernova appeared in the sky for more than three weeks in July of 1054AD. The Great House Pueblo is the only place where the rise of the moon can be seen at the peak during the 18.6 year cycle of the MLS.
While the scientific evidence has yet to be found, it is believed that the Great House Pueblo was probably built to celebrate specific astronomical occurrences. The Great House Pueblo has a direct line of sight to the Pueblo on Peterson Mesa. There is another communication link involving the Great House Pueblo. This link is with Huerfano Peak, a butte located approx. 30 miles to the southeast of Chimney Rock. Signal fires lit at Chimney Rock can be seen from Huerfano Peak. It is theorized that spiritual leaders who lived at Chimney Rock could send signals to Chaco Canyon via Huefano Peak. These signals could have been sent by fires lit in large basins which have been found at all the locations. While no structural remains of buildings have been found on Huerfano Peak, other artifacts (fire basins and shrines) have been discovered, strengthening the theory of the signal fires. Huerfano Peak is also visible from Mesa Verde. The possible use of mica for signaling cannot be ruled out. Mica is reflective and these early peoples would have known that. Mica would have been a practical option for signaling if smoke from a fire was not wished to be seen. In 2007, an experiment was undertaken to try to signal from Chimney to Chaco via Huerfano using 14in x 50in mirrors at each location. The experiment was a success even though the dust and man-made pollution did create a haze which obscured the view slightly.
At what point in time the Chacoan culture came to Chimney Rock is debated. The building style of many of the more than 200+ buildings (including a large kiva) found at Chimney Rock is the same as that found at Chaco Canyon. Many researchers believe that it was a spiritual society that was once located at Chimney Rock. Here lived the astronomers and priests who had direct communication with Chaco Canyon and informed the latter of the coming dates for various ceremonies, festivals or other events. Construction of the many buildings found high atop the razor-like ridge where Chimney Rock and Companion Rock sit would have been difficult. All materials had to be carried uphill - the logs, the stones, earth and water. It is no surprise that materials were often reused when new construction occurred. While some scientists speculate that the reuse of building materials could have had a more sentimental or spiritual meaning. Or maybe they were just being thrifty. This reuse has posed a problem for the scientific community when attempting to date the buildings.
As the ancient astronomers at Chimney Rock became more proficient at predicting astrological events, their status in the culture would have risen and grown. And the Chacoan culture who depended on these astronomers, grew as well. It is possible that many of the timbers used in construction at Chaco Canyon might have come from the area around Chimney Rock. As the population of Chaco grew, the need for more and more supplies grew. The area around Chimney Rock is a hunter's paradise with herds of elk, deer, and any number of smaller game animals. The river land of the Piedras River was fertile so more crops were grown to feed the larger populations. It is believed that the Chimney Rock area, along with numerous other communities of this region served as 'bedroom' communities or outlier communities for Chaco - producing much of the food and other supplies needed to support such a large civilization. Excavations have led researchers to the conclusion that the priests and other elite at both Chimney Rock and Chaco Canyon ate the best of food, deer and elk, while the working class ate the small game. But a person has to wonder how all the goods were transported to the other communities without the use of a wagon or a horse or ox to pull the wagon. While a river could have been used in some cases, many of the communities in the Chacoan complex were not located near a waterway large enough to carry a boat. Ninety miles is a long way to walk carrying a heavy load.
Why the Chimney Rock area was deserted is as much a mystery as the disappearance of the peoples of Chaco Canyon itself. Or Mesa Verde. Could the changing climate have been the cause? Did hostile intruders drive the residents away? We may never know. The evidence shows that the buildings at Chimney Rock were given the same treatment that has been found at other locations - the roof of the building was burned causing the roof to collapse down into the building. But the structures at Chimney Rock were not cleared out like those which had been abandoned at other locations. At Chimney Rock, the buildings still had items inside of them. We may never know the whole truth. Only what the Earth dares to share with us.
Ancient cultures were more in tune with nature than present day society. They were also more observant and mindful. But many of things modern day archaeologists have discovered leave a huge question mark in a person's mind. Did these ancient peoples possess a knowledge passed down to them from a much older and wiser race of people? Did they have assistance and guidance from a superior race of beings?
Chimney Rock National Monument is located roughly 39 miles east of Durango, Colorado or 16 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado along US Highway 160. Daily walking tours are offered from May 15th to September 30th.
Jeanne Gripp is a freelance writer, dowser and subtle energy worker who lives in the shadow of Pikes Peak. A Colorado native, Jeanne explores the connection between unknown lights, strange creatures, ancient legends, and earth energy lines. Jeanne has spent a lifetime of searching for answers, only to find more questions. Her articles and a book are an attempt to compile and explain the relationship between many of the anomalies that she has experienced over time.