Administrative History
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Even though the plan to establish a national park in 1964 progressed no farther than a subcommittee hearing, acquiring the Valle Grande remained part of NPS thinking. Agency officials continued to eye the Baca. In October 1969, Bandelier Superintendent Stanley T. Albright overheard a conversation at a Los Alamos Rotary Club meeting that led him to believe that Dunigan planned to sell the Baca. Park Service acquisition machinery began to gear up, but Dunigan never put the ranch on the market. The NPS was again thwarted.

Yet attempts to enlarge the monument continued. In 1971, the Park Service made a feeble effort to reacquire the game-trap, the cave kiva, and the Otowi ruins. The AEC was under pressure to dispose of some its holdings in the Los Alamos area. By February 1971, area pueblos and the USFS already expressed interest in the land. "If the NPS desires certain of these lands," wrote Acting Chief of NPS Environmental Planning and Design John S. Adams, "it had better move immediately and stake claim." [36] Park Service officials approached the AEC, and in a meeting on March 8, 1971, Los Alamos officials agreed to inform the NPS of any plans to dispose of the Otowi section.

But there was little pressure to dispose of Otowi. Thus, more than a year later, the NPS had no new information. On April 26, 1972, Bandelier Superintendent Linwood E. Jackson contacted "Bud" Wingfield of the AEC and found that the AEC had no plans to give up any part of the Otowi Section. Despite repeated attempts by Bandelier staff members to initiate negotiations, Otowi remained beyond the pale of NPS administration.

Dunigan did not fare as well as he had hoped with his ranch on the Baca. In 1964, he sued the New Mexico Timber Company, charging it with improperly caring for the land while it exercised its rights under a 99-year timber lease. According to the suit, the New Mexico Timber Company destroyed the surface value of Dunigan's land by cutting unnecessary roads, leaving the slash on the land, and denuding the region of mature trees. Dunigan was sensitive to the aesthetic values of his land and resented the tactics of the New Mexico Timber Co. [37] In 1970, the court ordered the timber company to pay Dunigan $200,000 for damages to 5000 acres that it harvested after he filed the suit. In the end, the suit was resolved to Dunigan's satisfaction. The court allowed him to purchase the lease of the New Mexico Timber Company.

The Park Service feared the destruction of the upper Frijoles Canyon watershed, and it tried to purchase a portion of the Baca. The insensitive land practices of the New Mexico Timber Company drove home the vulnerability of the park. In order to prevent the canyon from the flooding and large-scale erosion that would occur downstream the Park Service sought to include the entire El Rito de Los Frijoles watershed in the monument. If grazing and timbering were not restricted in the mountains, Bandelier was at risk.

On May 3, 1973, Brewster Lindner, the head of the Division of Land Acquisition, wrote Pat Dunigan to explain the long-term plans of the NPS to acquire a portion of the ranch. He wanted to avoid any chance of misunderstanding. Dunigan was interested in selling the small parcel that the Park Service wanted. After ordering an appraisal in early 1975, Lindner tendered an offer to purchase 3,076 acres of the southeast corner of the Baca for $1,350,000, subject to legislative approval. [38]

Yet there were obstacles in the way of even this small acquisition. While Dunigan considered the offer, the Regional Office submitted the proposal to the NPS Washington Office for review. Three conditions concerned all levels of the Park Service. Dunigan previously conveyed a one per cent general royalty on the property to the Magma Power Company in 1963, and unidentified parties owned 11 1/4 per cent of all minerals, steam, geothermal and thermal energy. On April 4, 1971, Dunigan had granted Union Oil of California a 99-year lease of geothermal rights to the entire ranch. In response to questions from the Washington Office, Lindner opined that the 11 1/4 percent royalty was not a problem for the agency and said that Union Oil representatives expressed a willingness to release their claim on the 3,076-acre section unless an unusual find was discovered. Further correspondence with Dunigan convinced Lindner that the concession to Magma Power did not pose a problem for park management.

Satisfied with Lindner's assessment, Southwest Regional Director Joseph C. Rumburg Jr. recommended the acquisition in January, 1976. Rumburg believed that the cost of the tract would only increase if the project was delayed. Even though the agency had no written commitment from Union Oil, it would most likely follow through on its verbal commitment. After completion of the legislative process, the agreement was signed on January 28, 1977, and the acquisition of the headwaters of the Frijoles was complete.

The headwaters bill also gave the agency the authority to acquire the Canada de Cochiti Grant, south of the monument. A number of earlier park proposals included the tract. The building of the Cochiti Dam near the southern tip of the monument led the agency to consider a presence there. Moreover, the Park Service coveted the area for administrative purposes. It offered a potential buffer between the lake and the delicate ruins in the Bandelier back country. It also presented the Park Service with a way to expand its interpretive scope.

Once again, the idea of a national park on the Pajarito Plateau gathered momentum. Dunigan's earlier suit against the New Mexico Timber Company was highly publicized. The controversy over the destruction of the forest resource led to another grass-roots move toward the creation of a park. New Mexico Congressional Representative Manuel Lujan received letters from Los Alamos area residents. Then on December 28, 1970, he requested that the National Park Service congressional liaison follow up on the issue.

During the middle 1970s, park proponents got a lift from a new law. The passage of PL 94-458, the General Authorities Act of 1976 required the NPS to select a minimum of twelve areas a year for inclusion in the National Park System. Although these were disparagingly called "the park-of-the-month" proposals, some important areas were included. The Valle Grande was on the first list the agency submitted to Congress. Among the evidence that the agency offered was the designation of the Valle Grande as a national natural landmark in 1975, and the recommendation of the National Parks Advisory Board in 1962 that the area be included in a national park.

In the late 1970s, Department of the Interior and Park Service officials took one more serious look at the merits of the Baca location. In August, 1978, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior David Hales, and Southwest Regional Director John Cook visited the Baca location as guests of Pat Dunigan. After the trip, Hales had the Fish and Wildlife Service and the NPS prepare a prospectus that summarized the discussion. As it would give him an excellent tax advantage, Dunigan appeared ready to work out an agreement with the agency.

But high-level Park Service officials had other priorities. Dunigan wished to meet with NPS Director William Whalen to discuss the transaction. Whalen, however, was not interested in the project, and Dunigan was deflected towards Assistant Director Ira J. Hutchinson. [39] Quite rightly offended, Dunigan left Washington, withdrew his offer, and began negotiations with the Forest Service.

But despite Dunigan's anger, the park proposal gained credence on Capitol Hill. Rep. Phillip Burton, the Chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, introduced a Valles Caldera National Park bill in early 1979 without approaching either the Park Service or Pat Dunigan. Dunigan discussed the proposal with Sierra Club Southwestern Representative Brant Calkin, and they decided the bill was "premature." [40]

Even though the purchase of the entire tract would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000,000, the new proposal made headway. A new-area study of alternatives was drawn up with a focus on the interpretation of geothermal and energy-producing activities. This was applauded by the manager of the Harper's Ferry Center of the agency as an "excellent area for industry and the National Park Service to get together and proceed in the same direction." [41]

But in the view of others in the agency, the Valle Caldera was already compromised, and they questioned the efficacy of the park proposal. Lorraine Mintzmeyer, Acting Regional Director of the Southwest Region, turned back the national park idea in favor of establishing a national preserve. "The almost blanket uses of the area for geothermal exploration and development," she wrote, "would make preservation and management of the area as a national park or monument very difficult." Her argument paralleled that of Paul Judge during the discussions over Otowi. The level of development in the Baca equalled that in the old Otowi section. Questions over its suitability for a place in the park system needed to be addressed.

In an unfortunate coincidence, the option to purchase the Baca disappeared. In early 1980, Pat Dunigan collapsed and died of a heart attack. His death dashed the hopes of the Park Service. The Baca Location passed to the trust he set up for his two underage sons. The trustees were not interested in disposing of the property.

After eighty years, the attempts to preserve large sections of the Pajarito Plateau within the boundaries of a national park ended. A number of opportune moments came and went, and a series of unusual coincidences and circumstances thwarted the plans of the agency. It was as if Park Service efforts in the region were jinxed. Every time the agency came close to acquiring its national park, something got in the way.

The problems grew out of competing interests in the region. Each opportunity for the agency offered its competitors an equal chance. In many cases, other interest groups were more powerful than the Park Service. John Collier and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were influential during the 1930s, the creation of the Manhattan project in Los Alamos superseded Park Service interests in the region, and the Forest Service was always ready to thwart the NPS.

Another problem was that the agency never fully accepted the concept of archeological areas as national parks. The Park Service did not exist when the only archeological national park, Mesa Verde, was established in 1906. From Mukuntuweap to the Petrified Forest, most of its efforts centered upon acquiring national park status for natural areas. While on occasion, archeological park areas received nomenclatural designations like national historic park, other than the Pajarito Plateau efforts, the NPS rarely proposed archeological areas for park status. As a result, its efforts to change its perception of the plateau seemed somewhat hollow, as if the emphasis on natural attributes was an elaborate rationale for the creation of a national park in the region. To outsiders like the Forest Service, the change in the focus of the agency offered evidence of the lack of merit in the entire idea. The more the Park Service tried for a national park, the smaller its chances of success became.

Like many areas within the park system, Bandelier was the focus of a variety of land acquisition attempts. What makes Bandelier distinct was that attempts to acquire land at the park ultimately changed the purpose for which the monument was established. The early attempts to create a national park, as well as most of the land acquisition attempts, focused on acquiring archeological resources or providing a buffer area to protect them. Beginning with the Jemez Crater proposal, later efforts to establish a national park looked to create a national park that subsumed archeological values to natural ones. Handed a mandate when it assumed jurisdiction of the site in 1932, the Park Service repeatedly tried to expand boundaries of the monument as it widened its interests and responsibilities at Bandelier.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006