When I left Chaco last summer, plans were underway to do a major renovation of the visitor center. The idea was to leave the exterior alone, apparently because it was considered of historical value as part of the Mission 66 program, but almost totally redo the inside, rearranging the office space and most of the visitor center functions to use the space more efficiently. Only the museum was going to be left as it was. I thought this was basically a good idea, since the way the building was laid out at the time was noticeably suboptimal.
The project was supposed to take a few months, and while it was underway the offices were to be moved to a series of trailers and the visitor services were to be put in a yurt to be constructed in the visitor center parking lot. Work began this March, and the movement into the trailers and the yurt was apparently smooth, but about three weeks in it became apparent that the building was structurally unsound and that just redoing the inside was not going to be a feasible option. Apparently when the building was originally constructed in the 1950s nobody really checked to make sure the ground underneath it was stable, and it turned out it wasn’t and had been eroding away over time. There had been indications of something like this over the years, and some cosmetic alterations had been done to continue using the building, but by now it was clear that the only realistic option was to tear the building down entirely.
Since the park still wants to move forward with the renovation plan, under which any new work must be within the footprint of the original building, the next step after demolition will be construction of a new building on the same spot, with engineered soil brought in first to ensure that the ground is stable this time. Right now the decision has apparently been made that the old building will be demolished, but plans for what to replace it with are still being formulated by the architects. So it looks like we’ll be in the yurt and the trailers for quite a while now; people have been saying at least a year, but I’m thinking it’ll probably be more like two. That’s okay with me, actually, since the yurt is quite nice and I don’t mind working in it. I’m only here for the summer, of course, and it remains to be seen how comfortable the yurt will be when winter comes.
Lots of visitors, seeing the boarded-up and fenced-off visitor center, have been asking what’s going on. When I tell them, they often respond with a knowing chuckle. People seem to understand that these things happen. Some are a bit disappointed that we no longer have a museum to show any artifacts or an auditorium to show the park video, but even they are pretty understanding of the situation. I’ve heard considerably more positive comments about the yurt than negative comments about the closed visitor center, in fact. This is a marked contrast to the amount of outrage people showed when the campground was closed. Luckily it’s now open, so at least that nightmare is over. Just goes to show what the priorities of visitors to Chaco are, I guess.