Round Trip Distance: 0.4 miles
Elevation: 7380 - 7430 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 30 mins.
Trailhead: Chimney Rock upper parking lot
Fee: $12/adult, $5/child 5-16
Attractions: Great kiva, pithouses
View Chimney Rock Great Kiva in a larger map
The Great Kiva trail is in the Chimney Rock National Monument in southwestern Colorado between Durango and Pagosa Springs. Chimney Rock became a National Monument in 2012. Currently the Monument is managed by the National Forest Service and is open only seasonally from May 15 through September 30. During the off season visitors can still access the area the same as they would any other National Forest but they will find the lower gate closed restricting access to hiking and horseback only.
Between May 15 and September 30, when Chimney Rock National Monument is open, visitors must stop at the lower parking area and pay the requisite per person fees even if they have a National Parks Pass. After paying the fees they can register for one of the guided tours for the Great Kiva and Pueblo trails. The Great Kiva trail may also be hiked by a self guided tour but visitors will still be required to pay the fees before they can drive past this point.
From the main entrance visitors can drive the 2 1/2 miles up the wide gravel road to the upper parking area where they will find another restroom and the trailheads for the Great Kiva and Pueblo trails. If you come during the off season and park at the highway where the elevation is 6600 feet you will have to hike 3 miles to the parking area where the elevations is 7450 feet.
The Great Kiva trail is ADA wheelchair accessible. From the parking area the trail descends a short distance and begins a clockwise loop. This is an interpretive trail with numbered stations and kiosks that correspond to the trail guide.
Besides the great kiva visitors will see the remains of several excavated pit houses and learn a great deal about what was determined about the lives of the ancient inhabitants from the discoveries that were made.
The 44 foot diameter great kiva gets the top billing for this trail. Kiva are still used to this day by the Hopi and Pueblo people as part of their Kachina belief system. Many kiva are found that are smaller family sized structures while the great kiva appears to be built more for larger public gatherings and ceremonies. From reading books like 'Pages from Hopi History' by Harry C. James, we learn they were also used by the clans to conduct official business. Reconstructed kiva can be found at several places like Bandelier in New Mexico, Mesa Verde in Colorado and the Three Kiva Pueblo in Utah but by far the best reconstruction that you will find anywhere is at Aztec National Monument in Aztec, New Mexico.
The great kiva here at Chimney Rock does have a unique aspect to it though. Most of the great kiva had 4 large posts that held up roofs that may have weighed as much as 90 tons. It appears that this kiva never had a roof but was an open air structure.
When sites are properly excavated under the guidance of trained archaeologists a vast amount of information can be obtained. Over the years the amount of that information has grown substantially and we continue to learn more and more about the ancient people of the southwest. On the other hand when sites are vandalized by artifact hunters nothing is gained and we all lose the opportunity to learn more.
Here at Chimney Rock there are at least a dozen rubble piles like this one that have never been excavated. Whether that has been due to the lack of funds, out of respect to the descendants of the people that are still with us to this day or for any other reason visitors are forbidden to disturb them in any way. The best way to preserve a site like this is to leave it just the way it is until it can be properly studied.
The people that lived here certainly had a commanding view of the surrounding area. It has been shown that it would have been possible for them to visually communicate with the people at Chaco Canyon 87 miles to the south. A network of such communication may have been possible throughout the southwest.
At first glance the sites at Chimney Rock National Monument appear as yet a few more examples of all that remains of a small village. But when you take into consideration their connection with other people of the region over thousands of square miles you get a sense for something far grander than a small group trying to eek out a meager living in a harsh environment. You find a common system of architecture, trade and religion. As a whole they appear not to have only struggled but to have thrived. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.