SJCA Guide to

Canyons of the Ancients

The designation of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (CANM) was a huge win. Yet now it’s under scrutiny and attack by the Trump Administration.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Our community fought for, and won, significant protections for the 171,000-acre National Monument in Southwest Colorado.

President Clinton designated Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (CANM) on June 9, 2000. The Secretary of Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are directed to manage CANM for the purpose of protecting the objects of scientific and historic interest identified in the proclamation. These objects include the highest known density of archeological sites in the United States, including at least 6,000 distinct structures, and more than 20,000 identified sites, primarily from pre-Puebloan era. More than 100 sites per square mile exist in some locations. The proclamation also referenced the natural resources, landforms, and wildlife species of CANM, specifically highlighting the area’s unique herpetological resources.

The Monument proclamation was necessary to protect the area’s significant cultural and natural resources from vandalism and looting, rampant oil and gas development, and destructive grazing practices. Over the next few years and with significant public input the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drafted the Monument’s management plan. San Juan Citizens Alliance and our members were heavily involved, ensuring that the voices and desires of the community were reflected in the final 2010 plan.

In the decade after designation, Montezuma County experienced strong economic growth. Between 2000-2008, population and jobs grew by 5% and 10%, respectively. Travel and tourism grew to represent about a quarter of the county’s economy (See Headwater Economic study). The proclamation has not impaired natural resource extraction outside the Monument’s boundaries.

CANM belongs to all Americans, but locals have fought for its protection and management. It’s where we hike, bike, wonder and imagine an era before such protections were necessary. We are proud to share it with the peace of mind that these irreplaceable resources will be protected.

As it turns out, we still need to defend CANM.

Nightime photo of Canyons of the Ancients


President Trump ordered a review of CANM.

On April 26, 2017 President Trump issued an executive order assigning the new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review all National Monument designations issued since 1996 over 100,000-acres. CANM is one of those monuments.

What will this mean?

Trump and Zinke hope to eliminate the Monument or dramatically shrink it. We will demand they recognize the public’s passion for CANM. We will vigorously defend this unprecedented attack on America’s national heritage.

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A Citizen’s Monument

From the beginning, the protection of CANM has been a citizen-led effort. The San Juan Citizens Alliance participated extensively during creation of the Monument’s management plan, submitting a suggested Citizens Management Plan in 2002. We defended CANM from expanded oil and gas drilling, and advocated for quiet, backcountry recreation until the final plan was issued in 2010.

Citizen involvement ensured the CANM’s management plan adequately balanced resource protection, transportation, recreation, and existing land-use rights.

As a direct result of citizen engagement in the management plan drafting process, CANM protects resources on a landscape scale. It looks at how cultural sites relate to one another and how natural resources are connected. Check out some of the values CANM preserves:

Cultural Sites

CANM is home to the highest known density of ancient cultural sites in the entire country, with between 20,000 and 30,000 sites. The lands within and around CANM have been settled for over 10,000 years, originally by Northern Puebloan communities. The area is imperative to our understanding of ancient puebloan culture. These sites include villages, field houses, dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, petroglyphs, sweat lodges, and more. Some areas contain more than 100 sites per square mile.


Consistent with the requests of citizens, CANM kept open and manages many trails for hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers. Sand Canyon is one of the most popular trails, luring locals and tourists alike with access to diverse cultural sites and scenic canyons.


When designated, the area was already home to three Wilderness Study Areas. Citizens nominated an additional 5,223 acres through the management planning process, for a total over 30,000 acres. These Wilderness Study Areas include Cross Canyon, Cahone Canyon, and Squaw/Papoose Canyon. Another 7,826 acres were set aside as Research Natural Areas to be managed for their research values.

The Department of the Interior is reviewing National Monuments, including CANM. They could attempt to repeal the Monument designation, but it’s more likely they’ll attempt to shrink it’s borders. Call Secretary Zinke and tell him to #PreserveCANM as it is: (202) 208-7351. And tweet at him here!

Take Action!

number41 (2)Call Secretary Zinke!

(202) 208-7351. Tell him to #PreserveCANM and other National Monuments as they are. You can also email him here.

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Sign up for our email list here. You’ll receive the most recent CANM news and updates on new ways you can help.

Tweet Zinke!

Secretary Zinke claims he pays attention to twitter. Send him a tweet right now: .@SecretaryZinke: Leave our National Monuments alone! #PreserveCANM #StandWithBearsEars

Stay Informed About CANM.

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