Chimney Rock Farms, 500 CR 175, Bayfield CO 81122 / / 970-731-1700  /  Content copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

History of the Chimney Rock Valley

The farm is located in a magical valley along the Piedra River in the shadow of the historic Chimney Rock Archaeological site. Five thousand years ago ancient hunters roamed this valley in search of deer, elk and bison.  

A thousand years before the Christian era there is evidence that maize (corn) was being cultivated in the valley.  In fact, it appears that Chimney Rock may have played a significant role in the transformation of hunter gatherer tribes into more complex agrarian societies.

According to aarchaeologist, Florence Lister in her book, In the Shadow of the Rocks, about the same time that Romans were tossing Christians to lions on the other side of the world (100-400 AD) the early inhabitants of the valley had successfully transitioned away from a nomadic lifestyle to one that was firmly committed to horticulture tending garden parcels close to the river.

What was it about this place that caused this to happen so much sooner than elsewhere in the region may have something to do with rich alluvial soils deposited at the mouth of the valley and a 150 day growing season for crops such as corn and squash to mature.  Hot days and cool nights helped to set sugars in berry plants and other fruit.  Additionally, the Piedra River supplied sufficient water for a community to flourish around the monument.  

Food was plentiful as elk and deer migrated down valley from the high country, late in the season, and the tall rock canyons supplied exceptional nesting sites for raptors such as Eagle and Peregrine Falcons whose feathers literally fell from the sky to be used in ceremonies that became the focus of the settlement.

One of the most interesting questions about Chimney Rock is about its purpose.  Was it an outpost built by Chaco Canyon residents to protect their norther frontier and watch over the locals in the Piedra Valley or did it become a shared ceremonial site to provide many cultures a window into the passage of time and seasons?  

In 1054 a Super Nova constellation known as the Crab Nebula appeared on the horizon.  It was easily the brightest object in the night sky, after the moon, and the people living in the valley could not have missed it. Shortly thereafter the inhabitants began constructing what was to become the Guard House and the Great Kiva ceremonial structures on Chimney Rock.

Twice a year the sun rises between the twin Towers of Chimney Rock to mark the June and December solstice which would be essential knowledge to plant crops. Aarchaeologists have discovered even more clues about the use of Chimney Rock by studying ancient trash sites where they noticed a high concentration of bones from larger animals such as Elk and Deer suggesting ceremonial dinners or perhaps serving as a port of trade for hunters from the north.

In 2009 a team led by CU Boulder Professor Steve Lekson worked the Chimney Rock site to piece together answers behind the mystery of Chimney Rock's purpose. By dating timbers found from collapsed roof structures the team wondered if the settlement had been hastily abandonment around 1130 AD.  Inside many of the rooms adjoining the Great Room were remnants of pottery chards with distinctive Chaco markings leading the team to believe that it was in fact an outpost of the powerful Chaco civilization.  

Every 18 years the moon rises in the northeast horizon and appears to freeze in the sky. This is known as the Lunar Standstill and might explain the Chacoan fascination with Chimney Rock. To learn moreclick here.
"There seems to have been a ritual connection at Chimney Rock that was part of the mystique of the Chacoan culture, and it included a desire for power over the cosmos," said Brenda Todd, a CU Doctoral Student. "Harnessing that power by taking over spiritually significant piece of landscape seems to have been an important thing for the Chaco elite"