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MOAB - Southeastern Utah's San Juan County is home to one of the highest concentrations of Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the country, many of them falling victim to the ravages of weather, time and human curiosity.
But thanks to a federal grant, 10 of those archaeological sites will now be stabilized and preserved. This month, the Monticello office of the Bureau of Land Management was awarded $225,000 through Save America's Treasures - a partnership of federal cultural agencies and the National Park Service. It is administered by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to help protect and preserve sites in areas that include Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch and Comb Ridge.
"These are sites that are unusually significant because they're so pristine," said Sandy Meyers, manager of the BLM Monticello Field Office.
"There aren't very many sites with standing architecture that exist in the country today, and we're fortunate to still have these resources in our area," she said. "But in some cases, they're just kind of being loved to death. They get a lot of foot traffic. Some have water seeps so the rock is being eroded away.
"We'll use the money to do stabilization to hold them in the condition they're in now."
As a condition of the grant, the BLM will nominate each of the 10 sites for National Historic Landmark designation, according to BLM archaeologist Jim Carter. One site - a ruin on Alkali Ridge - received the designation in 1965.
Alkali Ridge is a significant archaeological find, Carter says, because it was the first in the country that enabled archaeologists - by examining its artifacts and architectural techniques - to trace the evolution of Ancient Puebloan cultures across thousands of years.
To receive the money, the Monticello BLM office must raise $225,000 in matching funds, not including money from federal sources. That means appealing to state and local governments, as well as soliciting contributions from private sources - a task that Meyers says could prove challenging.
To meet that challenge, Meyers has enlisted the help of Cleal Bradford, director of the Four Corners Heritage Council in Blanding.
"It's not going to be a slam-dunk. It's going to take time and effort," Bradford said. "But I think raising state and county funds, and donations from private individuals is going to be doable."
Bradford, who since 1992 has worked on preservation projects with officials from the Four Corners states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, says the work planned for the 10 San Juan County sites will go a long way towards ensuring the region's rich cultural history is preserved.
"Once they're gone, they're gone," he said. "There's been a history of some vandalism - sometimes intentional, sometimes because people don't understand what they're doing."
The $450,000 in grant and matching money also will aid the local economy, which largely depends on tourism, Bradford says.
"We try to find the best of all worlds - not only to preserve the cultural resources, but to use them to help educate people about their value and their historical importance," he said. "When people understand that, they take more care."