Salmon Ruins Executive Director Larry Baker photographs damage on Tuesday at the Frances Canyon pueblito near Gobernador.
Salmon Ruins Executive Director Larry Baker photographs damage on Tuesday at the Frances Canyon pueblito near Gobernador. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

GOBERNADOR — Soot still stains the stones and mortar at the Frances Canyon pueblito near Gobernador after a bonfire was lit inside one of the rooms at the ruin.

Officials believe the bonfire was part of a Halloween party on Oct. 31 at the ruin, which is located less than 70 miles east of Farmington. Jack-o'-lanterns, candy wrappers, glow sticks and fake spider webs were found at the ruin.

If caught, those responsible face jail time and hefty fines. In 1979, Congress passed the Archeological Resources Protection Act, making it illegal to vandalize, damage, unlawfully excavate or loot archeological sites.

Brian Deaton, a Bureau of Land Management archeologist, said the amount of damage determines the sentence. Deaton said he has heard the mitigation efforts, which are included in the calculation of damage costs, brought the Frances Canyon vandalism to more than $500. That means the vandals could face up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

"I think it's possible that these people were oblivious that this was an inappropriate activity," said Larry Baker, the executive director of Salmon Ruins and the San Juan County Museum Association.

Salmon Ruins Museum is also in charge of administering the Northwest New Mexico Sites Steward Program. The program sends stewards to monitor sites like Frances Canyon. It was one of these stewards who noticed the vandalism.

While the culprits may not have known what they were doing was wrong, the evidence indicates that it was intentional, said Geoff Haymes, another BLM archeologist.

"They lit the way along the trail with glow sticks," Haymes said.

They also placed jack-o'-lanterns in the tower, blocked a doorway with a log, used rocks to fill in a hatch that led to a lower room and braced a 300-year-old beam against a wall to use as a ladder.

"They treated it as though it was a haunted house," Haymes said.

When the vandals climbed onto the roof, they walked on original, 300-year-old beams, which could easily break.

The museum is now considering adding a sign to tell people to stay off the roof.

"It's visibly intrusive, but, I think, at this point, necessary," Baker said.

On Tuesday, a group of specialists from Salmon Ruins, as well as BLM archeologists, met at the ruin to begin mitigating the damage.

Baker and Bruce Jim have been working on the ruin stabilization team since 1972. They examined the ruin to see if any of the masonry needed to be replaced.

"We use no modern materials in any of our repairs," Baker said.

Instead, when replacing mortar, they must find a soil with the right percentages of clay, sand and silt to make the mud mortar. They also make sure its coloring matches the original.

Luckily, the fire didn't burn hot enough to compromise the structural components of the ruin.

While most of the damage has been cleaned up, the fire left a mark that will take years to disappear, even the team's work to scrub the soot from the walls with soot sponges.

Baker pointed at the blackened wall.

"This is damage," he said, "this is true vandalism."

Tori Myers, assistant archeologist at Salmon Ruins, brushes away soot on Tuesday from a wall at the Frances Canyon pueblito near Gobernador. The wall was
Tori Myers, assistant archeologist at Salmon Ruins, brushes away soot on Tuesday from a wall at the Frances Canyon pueblito near Gobernador. The wall was damaged during a Halloween party bonfire last month. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

The mitigation team also removed the log blocking the pueblito's doorway and tossed it over a cliff. They worked to remove the stones used to make a hearth and swept up the ashes.

Frances Canyon pueblito is part of the National Register of Historic Places, which includes the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It was added to the registry in 1987, along with 48 other pueblitos in the area.

Frances Canyon is part of the Din├ętah defensive sites and is one of the architecturally larger ones.

Tree rings have placed it as going through periods of construction from 1717 until 1742, BLM archeologists said.

In 1705, Roque de Madrid led a group of conquistadors into battle against the Navajos. Baker said at that point he was "testing the strength of the Navajos."

Pueblitos like Frances Canyon began to appear after 1705.

Frances Canyon was specifically designed for defense. To enter the ruin, raiders would have had to crawl through small doors and up through small passages into other rooms. While crawling through, they were vulnerable.

Angled openings near the top of the tower allowed the Navajo to look down and shoot out of the pueblito, which was built perched on a mesa.

However, Baker said, even with the defensive structures, the Navajo knew it wasn't enough to protect them from the Spanish. Instead, the pueblitos were built as protection from Ute and Comanche raiders.

At that time, Baker said, it was illegal for a native to own a horse because of an edict from Spain.

"If you had a horse, you'd be a king," Baker said.

There were two ways for natives to get horses -- stealing from Spaniards or trading slaves for horses. Baker said the raiders would attack to get slaves.

While the vandalism to Frances Canyon created irreversible damage, Baker said they were fortunate. If the wind had picked up, it could have been a different story.

"What if it blew sparks into the tower?" Baker said. "You could burn down original roof materials in the tower. It could have been catastrophic."

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.