WASHINGTON – The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Mount Taylor, near Grants, N.M., to its 2009 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This annual list highlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
Located in the southwestern corner of New Mexico’s San Mateo Mountains, midway between Albuquerque and Gallup, Mount Taylor, with an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet, is a startlingly beautiful, sacred place. Visible from up to 100 miles away, the mountain has been a pilgrimage site for as many as 30 Native American tribes, with special significance for the Acoma people.
Centuries before the mountain was named for President Zachary Taylor, it was known to the Acoma as Kaweshtima, or “place of snow.” Mount Taylor is rooted in Acoma history and traditions, and is closely aligned with the tribe’s cultural identity. It is still used for a variety of cultural practices and holds value for several area tribes. Currently, the mountain is under threat from exploration and proposals for uranium mining, which, if allowed to proceed, would have a devastating impact on cherished cultural resources, including pilgrimage trails, shrines and archeological sites.
Mount Taylor is approximately 50 miles from Acoma Sky City, a 367-foot tall mesa that has been the home of the Acoma people for nearly 1,000 years, and is today a National Trust Historic Site.
The mountain sits atop one of the richest known reserves of uranium ore in the country – the Grants Uranium Belt. This reserve has already spawned two uranium-mining booms in the area, one in the 1950s and another in the 1970s. Current high demand for the ore has resulted in a renewed interest in mining the uranium deposits beneath Mount Taylor on federal, state and private lands, as well as on other public and private lands in the area. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division continues to receive proposals for exploration, mining and milling operations for Mount Taylor.
Much of the area is governed by the 1872 Mining Law, which permits mining regardless of its impact on cultural or natural resources, meaning that the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land management agencies lack the authority to deny mining applications, even if the application would adversely affect those resources. In addition to threats posed to the mountain itself, uranium mining may contaminate or impair Acoma’s primary water source, the Rio San Jose. The Acoma people view the Rio San Jose as both the key to their physical survival and the cultural lifeblood of their community.
“Mount Taylor is a significant part of the cultural history of the Acoma people and many other Native American tribes,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We can’t allow an antiquated mining law – one that has no merit today – to forever scar a place that has tremendous historical and cultural significance to thousands of Americans.”
The complete list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2009 Endangered Sites:
The potential destruction of Mount Taylor is not limited to mining. If permits are approved, new roads will be constructed, creating congestion on the mountain. The visual and auditory impact will be significant – the sights and sounds of mining on Mount Taylor would forever disturb both the tranquility of the setting and the traditional cultural practices that have taken place there for more than a millennium.
In addition to the Acoma, the mountain holds considerable cultural significance for other area tribes, including the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and the pueblos of Laguna and Zuni. Together, the tribes are seeking a permanent listing of Mount Taylor in the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties, a designation that would ensure the tribes are consulted whenever development is proposed on the mountain.
The 2009 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places was made possible, in part, by a grant from HistoryTM. Local preservation groups across the nation submitted nominations for this year’s list; the nomination for Mount Taylor was submitted by the Pueblo of Acoma.
The public is invited to learn more about what they can do to support these and hundreds of other endangered sites, experience first-hand accounts of these places, and share stories and photos online.