Ruins ruined in New Mexico, too


Tsankawi, a satellite ancestral Pueblo site of Bandelier National Monument, like the archaeological sites of Cedar Mesa, has been minimally supervised, and because it is right off the highway to the park it is often visited by people who want a less-groomed experience ("Ruining the ruins?" HCN, 3/4/13). Unfortunately, that hands-off approach has taken its toll. Ancestral pathways in the soft tuff are wearing away, and handholds and footholds to dwelling places are turning into powdery soft spots on the cliffsides. Potsherds have mostly disappeared, and carved rooms with smoked ceilings have become riddled with graffiti. An "archaeological" layer of bottle caps, pull tabs and even condoms can be found in sites that staff have not been able to maintain.

As a result, Bandelier is taking a fresh look at Tsankawi and creating a management plan that will hopefully balance visitor experience and protection. Tsankawi will likely become a much more controlled experience. However, we are looking at ways to engage the public to participate in site stewardship, offering visitors the chance to monitor the sites and use apps that allow them to upload photos, video and audio that can contribute to a database of site conditions. Our hope is that by engaging visitors, we can also create an ethic for visiting sites -- an understanding that they are fragile and subject to avoidable changes.

Rod Torrez
Los Alamos, New Mexico

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