by Becky Donlan & Ken Frye

The mystery of the Crestone stone huts has still not been solved. Who built them? When? Why? Did Native American tribes build them? Mesoamericans? Miners, railroad workers, settlers? Were they built one hundred years ago, a thousand years ago? And for what purpose? Ceremonies, marking solstices, shelters, storage, cooking? As one of the  huts has a Winter Solstice Sunset alignment could they be somehow connected to a site across the valley which has a Winter Solstice sunrise alignment? All ideas Native American Research and Preservation has been working on. We’ve brought in experts in their fields of studies and visited with Native Americans and locals as well as research groups from back East. Everyone has their opinion. Some have related Spiritual experiences here. 

Researching all these ideas has been quite the journey. Our non-profit organization, Native American Research and Preservation, Inc. has been researching many possibilities for more than a dozen years.

During June-August of 2010, archaeologist Adrian L. Niemetz with Pikes Peak Community College, and a local historian did an archaeology assessment of the Crestone Stone Huts as well as the nearby old townsite of Lucky. During this work, two shards of Ute pottery and one shard of Taos ware were discovered. These finds could be used to support the idea that the huts are of Native construction.

An archaeoastronomer who visited the site found that one of the huts had its opening facing the Winter Solstice sunset. He also noted they have some characteristics in common with similar structures found in New England. Two huts are very turtle shaped, and the smallest one seems to have its head intentionally modified to point in a direction of specific dates. He states that the sunset on Aug. 12 and Apr. 30 occurs at the same point on the horizon. These dates are 260 days apart and form the basis of the 260-day calendar which was/is observed in Mesoamerica, New England and the American Southwest (based on structures he has seen in the Cortez area). Aug. 13 is a time of ceremony in New England and has been since before the arrival of the Europeans and May 1 is New Year’s day. Aug. 13 is in our era the time of the peak of the Perseid meteor showers. These are believed to be deserving souls headed for Katauntowit’s house (possibly the black holes at the center of the galaxy).

Numerous stone chambers have been found in the eastern US. One, found in Fayette County, West Virginia, bears a striking resemblance to one of the Crestone huts. According to the Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1890-1891, page 408, Fig. 290 “these, which have a triangular cavity, were undoubtedly burial places.” 

Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating was done by the USGS Luminescence Dating Lab. Dates came in between 1860-1900, fitting them into the Historic Period. If these dates are correct, it is unlikely the huts are connected with the railroad, as the track was laid at the far end of the range of construction dates for the huts, and as the Crestone line was such a small track, it is unlikely that workers would have built them to bake bread. We have seen stone ovens on many Pueblos, and the openings are made to accommodate a stone door to seal in the heat. The openings of these huts are not shaped for a door to be fitted. Nor has any type of stone been found that would have been a door.

However, this type of dating has its challenges in the San Luis Valley. High winds blowing fine sand/soil can compromise the accuracy of results. A different kind of dating, Surface Luminescence Dating, has shown to be more accurate. We learned about this through our work with the New England Antiquities Research Assoc. (NEARA). We hope to have this done in the future.

David Johnson has investigated Native American sacred and ceremonial landscapes in Peru, Chile, United States and Canada during the last twenty-two years, and his research documents have been accepted into Smithsonian Institution’s national archives. After investigating the Crestone “stone huts”, Johnson concluded the following. Surrounding the “stone huts” are several stone features, for example, stone piles, crescent cairns/herraduras and short stone lines, which are characteristic of Native American ceremonial landscapes. Within the context of these sites, turtle cairns are frequently associated with them. The “huts” are shaped like turtles and tortoises, and while these have chambers, others may not. In addition to analyzing and comparing the physical characteristics of stone features to determine who constructed them, Johnson has associated their location with areas of higher permeability within the groundwater. Consistently, Native American stone features are located along areas of higher permeability which connect them to one another. Johnson’s survey of the areas of higher permeability within the Crestone site indicated all the stone features are connected to one another by concentrated flows. Based on these criteria, the turtle cairns/“stone huts” were constructed by Native Americans. As for their sustainability, architect Mark Jones’ evaluation concluded, “As to stability, my observation is that because of the inherent structural stability of this building method, and because of the durability of the (stone) material, these structures are stable (as long as not disturbed) and could have remained that way indefinitely, as in thousands of years.”

Many theories abound as to uses over the years—for storage of different types of items such as hides, pinon nuts, even gold. Some think they could have been used as charcoal kilns, or bread ovens. A Ute man said these, as well as one in the mountains near Leadville, were built by the Ancient Ones. Other Native peoples have said not to go near them in the winter—that they were places of healing, or places to take the sick and dying.

But the original intent is still an enigma. Colorado College, Colorado Springs, will have a student doing thesis work on the huts, beginning sometime in the spring. No excavations are planned. The student will begin by reviewing our work and meeting with us sometime in the near future. The historical documentary record and some spatial mapping of the larger cultural landscape will also contribute.  

Over the years, well meaning folks have rebuilt the top on the smallest hut. However, instead of helping, this in effect destroys the site. It makes it impossible to determine what was originally there when tampering happens. The site is a recorded archaeological area, and falls under protection of Federal Resource Protection Laws. We ask all visitors to respect this and please do not add, remove, or move any stones. Please do not climb on the huts or go inside them. Besides damaging the huts, stones could be dislodged and collapse, not only ruining the hut and anything we could possibly learn in the future, but also severely injuring the person. We greatly appreciate everyone’s cooperation.

We want to make sure to honor the memory of Adrian L. Niemetz and all the work he did here. We had met him at a conference and he was very excited to learn about the huts and to have an opportunity to be a part of our learning process. He was a very special person and it was an honor to know and work with him.

Anyone with questions, comments, or ideas, especially on preservation and protection of this very special and important site, please feel free to contact us at:

Becky Donlan 

Ken Frye