Chaco Canyon: $ 3,000,000 government project botched
CHACO CANYON, NM (KRQE) – Something is wrong in the rugged backcountry of northwest New Mexico. But just getting there is a challenge.
“The thing that goes on many people’s minds when they (travel there) is where do we go by God’s name? This place is in the middle of nowhere, ”says retired government employee Barbara West.
Leaving the sidewalk south of Nageezi, follow a grooved dirt road past the flash flood warnings to one of the most important historical sites in the United States. Welcome to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Between 850 and 1250 AD, the Chaco Canyon was home to a thriving civilization.
“You will be overwhelmed,” says Dabney Ford, former director of culture at Chaco. “You hit the canyon, you look at these amazing monuments and it’s just a big surprise to people,” says Ford.
See the largest ruin in the park. Pueblo Bonito was built over a thousand years ago. Skilled Anasazi artisans built an exceptionally complicated 800-room complex using only primitive tools, which is unparalleled in terms of masonry and functional architecture.
Pueblo Bonito was the first construction project of the Chaco Canyon. Just down the street is the remote Canyon’s newest venture, the brand new state-of-the-art Chaco Canyon Visitor Center, valued at $ 3,000,000.
But where Pueblo Bonito is an example of pre-Columbian art and ingenuity, the National Park Service construction project is a case study of bureaucratic botch.
“It’s a waste of money and just horrific,” said Dabney Ford, retired Chaco Canyon chief of cultural resources.
“It’s the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen,” says Ford. “Why should we do this?”
In an internal Park Service report that KRQE News 13 received when asked about freedom of information, Wendy Bustard, the curator of the Chaco Museum, wrote: “I am embarrassed and embarrassed that the (National Park Service) looks so incompetent.”
So what happened You have to go back. Way back.
The first organized archaeological expedition from Chaco began as a pioneering explorer in 1896 Richard Wetherill led a team of excavators to dig for artifacts in Pueblo Bonito. For the past 100 years, organized expeditions have dug through millennial rubble to discover Chaco artifacts, clues to the daily life of the bygone Anasazi civilization.
“There is no gold. There are no diamonds. There is nothing like it. But they are exquisite. They are the jewels from a thousand years ago, ”says Dabney Ford.
Would you like to see some of these breathtaking relics? You won’t find them in Chaco Canyon. Archaeologists discovered around 2,000,000 artifacts buried in the ruins. All of this, the merchandise, the ceramics, the tools, the carved jewelry, the turquoise, were packed in boxes and carted away.
“The artifacts from Chaco Canyon fill museums on the east coast,” says former superintendent of Chaco Canyon Park, Barbara West.
Since most of Chaco’s archaeological expeditions were sponsored by museums and universities on the east coast, these institutions took possession of the artifacts. Because of this, chacos rare antiques are tucked away in places like New York’s Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Some artifacts are kept at the University of New Mexico’s Hibben Center. Nobody is in Chaco Canyon.
The National Park Service wanted to bring these relics home. As part of a decade-long multi-million dollar project, a new visitor center in Chaco Canyon was designed to showcase excavated antiques to the public for the first time. Almost 4,000 valuable artifacts on loan from museums in the United States are displayed in an air-conditioned exhibition room
The space was opened to the public in 2017. However, if you come to Chaco Canyon and expect rare antiques to be buried here, you will be disappointed. What is missing in the exhibition hall are the exhibits. Oops.
When asked how many original artifacts are on display in the Chaco Canyon’s new visitor center, Chaco’s chief cultural resources officer, Aron Adams, says, “None are currently on display.”
“There’s an empty room with boxes, no artifacts,” says former park superintendent Barbara West.
When asked if anyone at Park Service botched this project, Chaco’s retired cultural resources chief Dabney Ford replied simply, “That’s right.”
Despite teams of government planners, architects and contractors, Park Service made a colossal mistake. The focus is on the heating and air conditioning of the new building.
“(The HVAC system) is working, but it is not working properly,” says Aron Adams of Chaco.
Instead of regulating the temperature, the visitor center building is often hot in summer and cold in winter. After spending $ 365,000 troubleshooting the HVAC system, Park Service discovered they had installed the wrong equipment for Chaco’s harsh New Mexico climate.
An independent consulting engineer concluded, “The design of the existing HVAC system and controls is unable to maintain the temperature and relative humidity requirements of the showroom at all times.”
Why is that important? The fragile artifacts of Chaco are a thousand years old. To display them, museum standards require strict temperature and humidity controls.
Because the installed HVAC system is unreliable, Park Service had to unplug its world-class artifact exhibit. Museum loan agreements that had developed over the years have been canceled and the priceless Chaco relics unearthed there are being stored in the east.
All of these specially designed showcases in the visitor center’s showroom are empty. In an internal report Chaco Museum Curator Wendy Bustard called it “… a massive black eye in the museum community”.
“I think the valet parking is to blame,” says former park superintendent Barbara West. “I think the American public deserves a lot more. … With no artifacts, you will be cheated of the entire Chaco experience. The people who were there had extraordinary skills, and the only way to understand those skills is by seeing the things they did, ”West said.
“Chaco wasn’t built perfectly in a day or the first time,” says newly named park superintendent Denise Robertson. “That has evolved over time, and mistakes may have been made where we embrace those mistakes,” said Robertson.
The National Park Service memos received from KRQE News 13 show that the HVAC problems were discovered more than three years ago. Since then, however, the valet has made virtually no effort to repair or replace the broken HVAC equipment.
“We are working with the regional office to put together a team of experts to evaluate the system,” said Park Superintendent Robertson. Robertson adds she doesn’t know why the regional office didn’t assess the HVAC issue years ago.
“The sheer isolation of Chaco (makes it) difficult to get people here to look at things and fix bugs,” says Robertson. “We don’t know exactly what the problems are, so it’s hard to guess what it would cost,” said Robertson.
While there are no artifacts in Chaco Canyon, the public can at least read about them at the Visitor Center Gift Shop.
“If (we can) build a space force, we can certainly heat a five hundred square foot room in Chaco Canyon,” says Dabney Ford.
“The money stops with me,” says Denise Robertson. “I am the superintendent of the park and it is my responsibility to ensure that the project is completed and that the artifacts are permanently maintained.”
How to view artifacts in the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
People of New Mexico can see the artifacts of Chaco Canyon in the Maxwell Museum of Anthropologylocated at 500 University Blvd. NE Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.