A proposed expansion of Yucca House National Monument to protect ancient ruins and facilitate improved access is a step closer to reality.
House Bill 1492, which would expand the monument southwest of Cortez from 33 acres to 193 acres passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. Its companion bill, S641, will be reviewed for a vote in the Senate.
In 2015, Bernard and Nancy Karwick offered to donate a 160-acre parcel along the southeastern border of the monument to help preserve ancient cultural sites. But because of the significant boundary adjustment, the expansion must be facilitated through an act of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton introduced HB1492, and was joined by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet in applauding it passing the House.
“The Yucca House National Monument is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the country and stands as a reminder of how the ancient Pueblo used to live hundreds of years ago. I am glad my colleagues joined me in supporting this bill, so future generations can continue to experience the monument,” Tipton said.
Bennet credited the landowner for making the expansion possible with his “generous donation.”
“Our bill to expand the monument will further protect these ancient dwellings for future generations,” Bennet said. “Now that it’s passed the House, I look forward to pushing this bill over the finish line in the Senate.”
Senator Gardner agreed.
“Protecting Colorado’s public lands for our future generations is one of my top priorities, and I’m excited that the House passed our legislation that will provide additional safeguards for Yucca House National Monument, one of the most well-preserved ancient dwellings in the country,” Gardner said. “This bill will help preserve these Ancestral Pueblo sites and protect a piece of our state’s great history so Coloradans can continue to benefit from our public lands.”
If passed by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, the expanded Yucca House National Monument would protect additional ancient sites and allow resolution of a long-standing problem of access. Yucca House is managed by Mesa Verde National Park.
A 1936 historic easement provides public access and parking to the monument off County Road 20.5 within the private Box Bar Ranch.
In 2014, rancher Larry Pickens asked Montezuma County commissioners to abandon Road 20.5. He said tourist traffic and parking interfered with his farm and ranch operation.
But the request was denied because monument managers pointed out they hold a 1936 permanent public road easement through the rancher’s land, and it can’t be abandoned unless another access point was created.
The monument expansion from the donated land would allow the monument entrance and parking lot to be relocated to another point on Road 20.5 away from the private ranch. The new entrance would have room for parking and might include a restroom, formalized trail and interpretive signs.
Yucca House is relatively unknown. Although it is open to the public for no fee, no signs direct tourists to the monument, and most visitors find out about it only while visiting Mesa Verde, which offers tours of the 800-year-old pueblo. The monument’s website states visitors “may need to pass through livestock gates and close them behind you,” and that ‘no trespassing’ signs do not apply to the county road.
The unexcavated pueblo village has the ruins of 600 rooms, 100 kivas, several towers, multiple plazas, unexplained structures and one great kiva.
Yucca House was established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson after an initial land donation by Henry Van Kleeck. It was expanded to 33 acres in 1996