SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah – A steep rock ledge, known locally as Ruin Point, stands sentinel over public lands rich with Native American antiquities preserved from the sands of time.
More than 700 years ago, ancestral Puebloans incised images of mountain sheep into sandstone faces now visible from dusty roads carved into canyons. Pieces of red and black-on-white pottery are scattered about snowy mesas, along with ancient corncobs and stone tools. Cliff houses wedged into crevices hide in plain sight, the blocks and mortar used to craft them blending seamlessly into steep stone walls.
Now, the 13,000-year-old historical record of Native Americans who inhabited the outskirts of two national monuments near the Colorado-Utah border is facing an unprecedented threat. On March 20, the federal government is scheduled to auction off almost 41,000 acres in southeast Utah to oil and gas companies under expedited lease sales ordered last year by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Just last week, Zinke abruptly postponed another lease sale – about 4,434 acres in New Mexico, including acreage on the cusp of a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Canyon, within the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.