You are here

Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park, the Park that Died A-Borning


Congress authorized a Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park several decades ago, but no such NPS unit ever materialized. The people of Zuni Pueblo didn’t like the idea.

If you dig into Congressional records dating back to 1990, you’ll find that the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources published a five-page report to the 101st Congress (to accompany S. 2430, 2d session, Senate -- 101-323). The report was entitled “Amending the Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park Establishment Act of 1988 to Enlarge the Time in which the Secretary of the Interior May Accept a Leasehold Interest for Inclusion in the Park.” We’ll spare you the Congressionalese. Here’s what was going on.

The 1988 legislation that authorized the Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park gave the National Park Service two years to make the necessary lease arrangements. That seemed to be plenty enough time, given that Zuni Pueblo residents had signaled their willingness to accept federal protection for the resources involved. Now, here it was early 1990 and the clock was still ticking toward the deadline with no lease agreement in sight. Senate Bill 2430, which was sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), was drafted for the purpose of extending the drop-dead date to 1994.

Congress might as well not have bothered. At what amounted to the last minute, the people of the Zuni Pueblo (population about 10,000) overwhelmingly opposed leasing land for the park. Nothing was going to change their minds, either.

Congressional authorization for the Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park quietly expired, and if anyone is still seriously interested in the park idea, they are not making much noise about it.

Post mortems on failed initiatives usually attach blame to shareholders for their mistakes. But it’s hard to find a loser here, or for that matter, to even find good grounds for pointing a reproachful finger. You can’t blame the federal government for wanting the park, and you can’t blame the people of Zuni Pueblo for refusing to go along with the idea.

There’s no question that a fine park could have been based on the Zuni-Cibola Complex, which is located on the 700 square-mile Zuni Reservation about 150 miles west of Albuquerque. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, the Zuni-Cibola Complex, which incorporates the Hawikuh, Yellow House, Kechipbowa, and Village of the Great Kivas sites, is a marvelous collection of archeological and historical resources that includes house ruins, kivas, and rock art as well as Old Zuni Mission (built 1629) and its world famous murals of Zuni ceremonial figures (kachinas and kokos).

There’s more to this place than sightseeing, too. Scientists have found the archeological sites at Zuni Pueblo to be a rich source of information about the intermixing of ancient Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) cultures that evolved over the centuries into today’s distinctive Zuni pueblo culture.

All of this said, it’s easy to understand why the Zuni decided to block efforts to establish a national park on their reservation. If the Zuni had leased the necessary land to the Park Service, they would have lost vital policy- and decision making authority over the terms under which outsiders are permitted to visit Zuni Pueblo and interact with its residents. Traditionally the most isolated of the pueblo people, the Zuni have a long history of resisting unwanted outside influences and protecting their cultural privacy. In this society, the tribal year is still attuned to the cycle of traditional activities and the sacred ceremonies are not staged as photo ops for the tourists.

This is not to say that the Zuni are uninterested in tourism or hostile to outsiders. It’s just to say that Zuni Pueblo visitors must abide by rules considerably more restrictive than those regulating national park visitors. Consider the guidelines for “respectful visiting” that you find in the Zuni visitor guide:

You are welcome to visit Zuni Pueblo as a "respectful guest." Please be aware that there are many aspects of Zuni life that you may not understand - or even recognize but these important practices enable us to continue our way of life. Your respect for our cultural traditions and cooperation in the following guidelines will ensure the continued privilege of visits to our very special community.

Please -

• Check-in with the Visitor Center before starting your visit to Zuni Pueblo to get an orientation and current information. Remember, you are visiting an active community of residents' daily lives and homes - not a museum or theme park.

• Use common sense etiquette as well as respect all rules and regulations of the Pueblo.

• Consider capturing visual memories instead of photographs! Assume that ALL "cultural" activities within the Pueblo are off-limits to photograph, video or audio record or sketch unless specifically informed otherwise. Always inquire first and ask permission before photographing any activity involving people. NO photography is permitted of images inside the Old Mission. Request permission from the Tribe before publishing any photographs or information regarding Zuni Pueblo's activities.

• Observe with quiet respect any traditional dances and events that you may encounter. Asking questions or speaking loudly interrupts the participants' concentration. Watch such activities from a distance without blocking any Zuni participants' views. Applause is as inappropriate as in a church setting.

• Exercise common sense by not climbing around fragile archaeological structures or adobe walls. Removal of artifacts or objects from these areas is a Federal offense.

• Respect our community by not using alcohol or drugs and not bringing weapons. Hike only in designated areas (check at Visitor Center) and not around archaeological ruin sites.

• Do not bring pets into the historic "Middle Village" and make sure your children are
controlled and respectful.

• Be aware that the Pueblo of Zuni can not be responsible for injuries, theft, or damage incurred by visitors.

• Violators of these rules are subject to penalties in accordance with Zuni Tribal and Federal laws.
If you want more information about visiting Zuni Pueblo, see the Zuni Tourism Department website.

Postscript: Over the past two decades, the non-existent Zuni-Cibola National Historical Park has found its way onto an assortment of New Mexico and southwest regional maps. If you keep a sharp eye out, you might spot one of these boo-boos yourself.


This is a very good thing. It is a shame that such respect for Native peoples wishes wasn't given much thought when places such as "devils tower" National Monument and many other example were birthed. Maybe progress is being made and lets hope this example becomes the norm.

While Devils Tower is an important place in the myths of a number of Native American people, it is not and never was part of a reservation on any of the nations. If you want to compare Zuni-Cibola with an existing NPS unit, look at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This one is on Navajo land and protects resources of pre-navajo Anasazi culture as well of Navajo heritage. Its status is in dispute, as the Navajo nation wants it back.

If you are going to name "problem" NPS units on Navajo Nation land, don't forget Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Rainbow Bridge is a sacred place to the Navajo (Diné), and culturally/religiously significant to the Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and White Mesa Ute. Lots of Native Americans would love to see complete control of Rainbow Bridge turned over to the Navajo.

Not disputing whether or not Bear Lodge or Devil's Tower was on reservation land or my point it is not relevant. My point has to do with being respectful of another's cultural past or spiritual beliefs. The fact that you labeled your link as "myths" of Native American peoples speaks loudly. The reverence that the native American people hold for places such as Bear Lodge, Chimney Rock, Rainbow Bridge as well as many other examples is every bit as valid as other people belief in the mainstream religions of the world to them. As far as Canyon de Chelly National Monument goes, perhaps mgmt of this cultural icon should be turned back. Maybe Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chaco Canyon as well. Who would be the loser here if that was to happen. It is amazing the we can enjoy and ponder and appreciate the achievements and beliefs of the ancient civilizations yet poop on their present day progeny. Apparently congress felt the same way in leaving Zuni Cibola alone as far as the NPS is concerned.

Bob...your points are well taken.

A brand of protection higher than that the NPS provides.

I know of a site important to African American history that would not take much of a campaign to get it part of the NPS given the current desire among NPS upper management to attract more minorities. I have often thought of mounting a campaign to make it a National Historic Site managed by the NPS. But when I go there and think about the paved roads flashy "interactive" exhibits; requisite bureaucrats; and crowds of people that would follow I'm happy to have it be the obscure tranquil postage stamp in a national forest that it is today. I am not enough of a careerist, advancing myself at the expense of the resource, to do it.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide