Anasazi outpost dodges the drill

  • Hovenweep National Monument, looking across Little Ruin Canyon toward potential lease lands

    NPS
  In early December, Hovenweep National Monument, in the remote southeast corner of Utah, narrowly escaped an attempt to lease nearby land for oil and gas drilling.

The monument’s 400-acre Square Tower unit was created in 1923 to protect the remains of an almost 800-year-old Anasazi settlement, where as many as 500 people once lived. From there, visitors can look south, across Bureau of Land Management and private land, and see the San Juan Basin, Ute Mountain, and Shiprock in New Mexico.

"You have a pretty big, expansive view there," says Corky Hays, the monument’s superintendent. "To me, it’s very evocative of what it was like when these sites were actively occupied."

In 2000, the BLM acquired a 580-acre parcel just a quarter-mile south of the monument, specifically to protect that view and the solitude for which Hovenweep is known. But the agency never amended its resource management plan to protect the parcel, and earlier this year an oil and gas company nominated the land, along with a second, 640-acre private parcel adjacent to it, for leasing.

The National Park Service, which manages the monument, formally protested to the BLM on Nov. 26. On Dec. 7, three days before the planned lease sale, the BLM decided to remove the two parcels from the list. "We took the position that we need to rethink it," says Kent Hoffman, the BLM’s deputy Utah state director for lands and minerals. The BLM is beginning the process of updating its entire Monticello resource management plan, which will provide an opportunity for more protection for the Hovenweep area. The revised plan could be available for public comment as early as fall 2005.
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