Saturday, November 26, 2016


Huerfano Butte, New Mexico.
Photograph Eric Packard,

On October 8, 2016, Dr. Steve Lekson gave the keynote speech at the CAS 2016 Annual Meeting in Grand Junction. He discussed Chacoan influences in southern Colorado, particularly a communication channel between Far View House, Mesa Verde, and Chimney Rock Pueblo, Colorado, by means of fire beacons, with Huerfano Butte, New Mexico, and through it Chaco Canyon.

Far View House, Mesa Verde,

Huerfano Butte, New Mexico, has three peaks on top that were visible from Chimney Rock Pueblo and from Chaco Canyon. There was a fire box between the pinnacles of Chimney Rock and fire pits (or fire boxes) on Huerfano Butte that could be seen from each other. The Huerfano Butte fire pit would also have been visible from Chaco. These would have been ideal for long-distance messaging. There was also a view of Huerfano Butte from Far View House in Mesa Verde and it also has a fire box so it must have been part of the network. These fire boxes were constructed in AD 1015-1020 (by tree ring dates). (Lekson 2009)

Chimney Rock, Archuletta County, CO.
Photograph: 2002, Peter Faris.

"'Large fireboxes at Chimney Rock likely were used to signal Chacoans at the summit of Huerfano Mesa, a plateau hosting ancient fireboxes some 30 miles to the southeast of Chimney Rock and in sight of Chaco Canyon,' said Lekson. 'There was almost certainly line-of-sight communication between Chimney Rock, Huerfano Mesa and Chaco Canyon,' said Lekson. While there is no Chaco Great House on Huerfano Mesa, 'elaborate fireboxes and shrines suggest that somebody was there to pick up the phone and relay messages.'" (

Chacoan geat house at
Chimney Rock. Photograph,
public domain.

In her book Wild Inferno, novelist Sandi Ault described the communication system in a story that she attributed to a storyteller from fictional Tanoah Pueblo, which she located near Taos Pueblo. "Time before time, the chiefs in the Center of the World could talk with fire and receive its knowledge and power. They used what fire told them to hold the moon unmoving in the sky."

"Far to the north, many priests lived and worked on Fire Mountain, learning the Way. From their round tower there, and from the ridge across the river, they made many studies, watching Grandmother Moon and Father Sun rise over the shoulders of Earth Mother. They measured with sticks and holes they made in the rock, and they counted days with lines of dots and brush marks, or with piles of pebbles. They built great night fires and used big, flat stones to shoot the light of the flames far, very far. They sent their wisdom on nights when the moon was hiding, so the fires could be seen in the sky. Three-days-walking to the south, on Red Mask Mesa, the fire tenders received the messages, then built blazes of their own, and - using the same kind of stones - sent the fire's light another three-days-walking to the south, to the Center of the World. The chiefs of what they now call Chaco Canyon would see the fires, read their messages, and the Way would be known."
"The People would gather at the temples, and the chiefs would say: On this night, I will tell the moon where to stand, and it will come to that place because I say it must! The People would watch and see."
"And when Moon obeyed, and came to the appointed place in the sky, the People knew that the chiefs were very powerful. The fires had bestowed their gifts." (Ault 2008:32)

Given that the Chacoan Phenomenon in the Four Corners Region is believed to have been one of influence and spiritual leadership throughout the region, the possibility that they could  communicate over such vast distances would possibility assume a spiritual significance as well.

3 mountains painted in a kiva
at Eagle's Nest ruin, Ute Mountain
Ute Reservation, CO. Photograph
Peter Faris, 1981.

In June 1981 we were lucky enough to tour the portion of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation south of Mesa Verde. This region has pretty much as many ruins as Mesa Verde proper, with the added bonus that they have not been cleaned up. Pot sherds, bones, tools, and cordage still litter the ground in this area. One ruin that particularly intrigued me is known as Eagle's Nest. In this building there is a painted kiva with three mountain peaks painted on the inside wall (and if you look carefully you can make out some of the white dots that outlined the peaks).

Eagle's Nest ruin, Ute Mountain 
Ute Reservation, CO. Photograph
Peter Faris, 1981.

I have since been fascinated with what those three mountain peaks might represent. If Eagle's Nest could be seen as part of the communication network then perhaps the three peaks painted in the kiva at Eagle's Nest ruin on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation south of Mesa Verde can be connected to the three peaks of Huerfano Butte in the minds of the people? Is there any way that Huerfano Mesa could be visible from Eagle's Nest ruin? Given the location of Eagle's Nest Ruin in a canyon wall shelter I am pretty sure it cannot have sight lines to Huerfano Mesa. Perhaps intervening locations with fire boxes could have transmitted messages on from Far View to Eagle's Nest or from Huerfano Mesa to Eagle's Nest. The problem here is that I have no knowledge of such fire boxes and I do not believe that such research has been done. It would take detailed survey work to attempt to discover lines of sight and fire boxes or beacons that would have been used.

Three painted mountains
outlined with white dots. Spruce
Tree House, Mesa Verde, CO.
Photograph Peter Faris, 2002.

There is certainly some significance to the three peaks at Mesa Verde. Spruce Tree House has a wall painting that also has three peaks outlined by white dots. This theme would seem to be more than just coincidence in decorative elements.

So, although we apparently have instances of possible communication between Chaco Canyon, Huerfano Mesa, Chimney Rock, and Far View House in Mesa Verde, the information available does not yet justify making an assumption that there is any connection between the three painted peaks in the kiva at Eagle's Nest Ruin, three painted peaks at Spruce Tree House, and the three peaks on Huerfano Mesa. Too bad too, it would have been such a neat solution. I guess I will just have to keep looking for the answer of what the three peaks represent. I will also be happy to hear your comments on this as well.


Ault, Sandi,
2008    Wild Inferno, Berkeley Prime Crime, New York.

Lekson, Steve, PhD.,
2016   Latest Chaco Canyon Theories and Research, lecture to: Annual Meeting of the Colorado Archaeological Society, October 7, 2016, Grand Junction, Colorado.

Packard, Eric,, image 3637306.

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