Chimney Rock Cultural Gathering.

Photograph Jeremy Wade Shockley/SU DRUM

15th Annual Chimney Rock Native American Cultural Gathering
Text and Photographs: Jeremy Wade Shockley
Southern Ute Drum Vol.XLI No.15

Dark thunderclouds moved in from the northwest as dancers from Denver began to don their regalia in preparation for dance. A strong breeze ruffled the feathers of the elaborate headdresses, which had been moved under the porch awning and out of the weather. The leader and teacher of this dance group watched the sky, his name is Carlos Castaneda. Carlos is the head dancer for the Aztec Mexica Dancers, pronounced me-she-ka. These dancers have made the journey from Denver to Chimney Rock Archaeological Area for the last twelve years.

Their traditional dance is part of the annual Chimney Rock Native American Cultural Gathering, now in it’s 15th year. Carlos feels the practice of traditional dance builds and maintains a strong connection with his past, an ancestry going back to the traditional cultures of Mexico and Central America. “ My parents and grandparents did not pass this down, these dances were forbidden to them, we are reclaiming our culture through ceremonies that were almost lost,” said Carlos. We spoke of the weather, as Carlos finished lacing up his regalia, “It will rain, you’ll see.”

The Aztec dance group consisted of men and women, two drummers and few young children dressed in full regalia. The ceremony began with an offering of incense and prayer to the four directions. The fervent dancing began almost immediately to the sound of fast paced, rhythmic drumming. Each dancer taking the lead in turn, as large drops of rain began to fall. Carlos beckoned the spectators to join them in the arena for the final dance as the heavens rained down. The heavy downpour did not dampen spirits as the dance continued in a fast circular fashion, perhaps drawing an unexpected energy from the sudden shift in weather, embracing the warm summer rains.


Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is located just west of Pagosa Springs and the Southern Ute recreation area known as Lake Capote. Following the rainstorm, a second dance arena had been designated along the ridge line, where the dark clouds made way for clear skies and sunshine. Performing traditional dances, there were a number of Hopi dance groups as well as singers and dancers from Acoma Pueblo. The arena was set in a traditional kiva, allowing these dances a more traditional setting. A Hopi Dance group held the first dance from Second Mesa, performing the “Buffalo Dance”. This group’s village of origin is Sipaulovi, meaning “Village of Mosquitoes.”

“The Acoma Pueblo dancers return to the cultural gathering annually” said Albert Alno of the Acoma Pueblo Traditional Dancers and Singers. Proud of his young dancers, Albert spoke favorably of the setting and environment that the Cultural gathering had to offer. Aside from a historical and picturesque dance arena, concessions were also provided. Various artisans also traveled to this event, setting up ceramics and jewelery under the shelter of tarps.

Tewa Dancers from the North also performed in the Kiva, with group leader Andrew Garcia drumming with relatives. Andrew hails from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and has been involved with positive mentoring since 1974. His program started as a means to keep youth off of drugs and alcohol, to teach them the values of traditional life ways throughout Native American culture. His dance group has since traveled the world and continues to bring a positive impact to the youth involved. His “Eagle Dancers” performed beautifully.

With the last rays of golden sunlight splashing the earthen floor, two dancers entered the Kiva. Moving to the drums, Philbert Polingyouma and his partner danced gracefully as the light began to fade into evening. This dance concluded the 15th annual Chimney rock Native American Cultural Gathering, a two-day event held in the mountains of Colorado, come rain or shine. Photographs Jeremy Wade Shockley/SU DRUM

Visit the SOUTHERN UTE DRUM website to see the full article and photographs.

Cheers, Jeremy

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2 thoughts on “Chimney Rock Cultural Gathering.

  1. Thanks Mike. That was very much a "final edit" shot, it was one of my favorites right from the start, but because of space constraints we ran a similar photograph in the drum article of two dancers, shot just moments later. I really liked the way the light hits that small dry plant, also catching the dancers movement in and out of shadow, capturing the moment, the balance.Just got in from Moab last night, great trip! Trail riding, good friends and cold beer set the pace, some great shots around the campfire, but nothing dedicated. It feels good to be able to put the camera down from time to time. And as you know Mike, it does not happen very often!Cheers.

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