In northwest New Mexico, a vast culture of Ancestral Puebloans thrived for about 400 years around Chaco Canyon and a 50,000-square-mile area of the Four Corners in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Although people had moved on from the Chaco area by about 1250, their enormous structures with hundreds of rooms, great kivas, connected system of roads, and “Chaco Outliers” (far from the heart of Chaco Canyon but similar in design) dot this vast landscape today.
Sounds impressive—and it is. But what if you’ve never had the opportunity to go there? Or you’ve only seen one site, but know there are others? Or you can’t quite get your head around how all of these places fit together on the landscape?
The National Trust has just finished a new video that will transport viewers to that landscape by providing a seldom-seen aerial perspective illustrating the breadth of Chaco sites, their connectivity on the landscape, and threats that they face in the wake of energy development in the San Juan Basin.
The video, called From Chaco Canyon to Chimney Rock: A Landscape Worth Protecting was produced in response to the National Trust’s continuing effort to discourage inappropriate energy development in the Greater Chaco Landscape, especially along the corridor of the ancient Great North Road which leads directly north from the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The National Trust put this landscape on its list of 11 Most Endangered Places in 2011 and since then has been pursuing various advocacy strategies including encouraging the Bureau of Land Management not to lease additional parcels for oil and gas development, supporting the need for additional documentation and understanding of the landscape, and working with tribes and pueblos who consider this area their ancestral homeland.
Those of us who work in the Western Office, along with our many partners, have come to know the place pretty well. But as we talked to others, such as advocates, donors, and bureaucrats who were less familiar, we felt we needed another, more compelling way to convey our concerns. And thus the idea for the video was born. We were first introduced to the effectiveness of this kind of visual mapping through colleagues at the Trust for Public Land just down the road from us here in Denver and got connected with a company called Computer Terrain Mapping (CTM) in Longmont, Colo. We had several meetings with them, saw sample products of a similar nature and worked closely with them to develop a story and an animation path along which our story would unfold. We assembled photos, maps, known data points, and a narrative. Then, CTM used its own program called edWare3D—a suite of software tools for 3D terrain rendering—to bring the Chaco landscape to life. Finishing touches including text, photos, and virtual artifacts were added with Adobe After Effects, CTM provided voice-over narration and it was all put together in a five-minute video which is now housed on the National Trust’s YouTube channel.
The cost was reasonable and took a few months from start to finish—a time line that was largely driven by our ability to collect needed materials and review video drafts. The video has already been seen by several different audiences, and without exception viewers have found it engaging and helpful in illustrating the National Trust’s advocacy efforts and concerns in a new and compelling way. And it’s been so well received that a second video is in the works where CTM will extend the terrain mapping northwest to illustrate the connections between Chaco and the National Treasure Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah. We’re sold on our new marketing tool for saving the Greater Chaco Landscape and encourage others to think about new ways of presenting advocacy information to help save places that matter.