Northern Major Lunar Standstill

What is the Northern Major Lunar Standstill at Chimney Rock? Unlike the sun’s predictable path that repeats every year across the sky, the moon’s wandering path plays out on a longer, more subtle cycle. Over several decades, the ancestral Puebloans of Chimney Rock would have seen the moonrises shift gradually each year. In time they would have noticed that at the northernmost point in its multi-year journey, the full moon would rise between the rock pillars. Then, the moonrise crept southward again not to return to the embrace of the stone pillars until more than 18 years later.

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    Ronnie Cachini was an indigenous artist from Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. His artwork, seen on many interpretative panels throughout the monument, depicts the landscape, stories, history and heritage of the monument and its important to the Zuni people. The Zuni tribe is one of 25 tribes with a cultural or traditional affiliation to Chimney Rock.

What makes the Major Lunar Standstill (MLS) special?

The MLS is an astronomical event that occurs every 18.6 years. It is visible from Chimney Rock National Monument where the moon aligns between the two sandstone spires, Chimney Rock and Companion Rock. The rising is visible for a few days throughout the year over the course of three years.

Will there be public night viewing opportunities?

No, there will be no public night viewing opportunities from any location within the monument in 2023. The Forest Service and partners are discussing opportunities to share the event via other platforms such as live streaming, still photography and/or video recording in 2024-2025. For more information about the area closures, check out Forest Order, 02-13-06-23-03 and map

In the past, visitors could view the MLS from a two-story fire tower. What happened to the tower?

The fire lookout tower was removed in 2010 because it was no longer needed due to advanced firefighting technologies, and the tower blocked astronomical alignments from the ancestral Puebloan structures. As a result, there is no longer a modern structure or location where the MLS can be viewed safely from the upper mesa.

Will the public be able to access the monument after the gates close each evening?

No public access will be allowed in the monument after hours of operation during periods and nights surrounding the rising events. Closure of the monument during these periods will be enforced.

Why is access restricted to Chimney Rock National Monument after hours?

The decision to restrict access to Chimney Rock National Monument during evening and night viewings is based on ensuring public safety. Specific considerations include:

  • Hazards associated with hiking the strenuous upper mesa trail in the dark, especially as the trail is steep, rocky, and on a narrow ridgeline.
  • Significant 1,000-foot cliffs on both sides of the trail.
  • Lack of adequate safety lighting and cliff barriers.
  • 7-mile round trip walk from the monument’s entrance gate.
  • Potential wildlife encounters such as bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes.
  • No Forest Service personnel or emergency management services available.
  • Limited cell phone service and long response time for emergencies.
  • The only viewing location to observe the MLS is a small area on the upper mesa right along the cliff edge where the fire lookout tower once stood.