AT THE BOTTOM OF FRIJOLES CANYON, N.M. (AP) — With the sun blazing overhead, the crew of Native American youth tries to work quickly. Their hands are covered with dry, cracked mud as they repair the stone walls that make up one of the more prominent cultural sites at Bandelier National Monument.
The teens spent most of the summer helping with a massive preservation project as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's HOPE initiative, or Hands-On Preservation Experience.
The trust teamed up with the National Park Service and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The goal: To train more young people in preservation skills while helping historical sites on public land. From New Mexico and Arizona to Virginia and Vermont, crews worked on some 30 projects this summer.
At Bandelier, the work has taken on a greater significance because the teens are restoring structures that were built by their ancestors centuries ago.
"I think it's important because we need to know where we came from," said Vidal Gonzales, 17, of Santa Clara Pueblo.
Tucked into northern New Mexico's ancient canyons, Bandelier has a long human history that stretches back more than 11,000 years to the days when nomadic hunters and gatherers tracked wildlife across the region's mesas and canyons.
More permanent settlements popped up several centuries ago, with the largest concentration being in Frijoles Canyon. All that's left are the stone and mortar outlines of what were once grand multi-story structures that were built into the walls of the canyon and along Frijoles Creek.
There are underground kivas where puebloan ancestors gathered for meetings and ceremonies and prehistoric warehouses made up of hundreds of rooms where food was stashed.
Tyuonyi Pueblo is one such place, where the all-tribal HOPE team worked.
They checked the capstones of each wall. If loose, they were removed, the mortar was replaced and the stones were reset. Measurements were taken and the work was documented.
The site was first excavated by Edgar Lee Hewett in the early 1900s. In 1916, Bandelier was established as a national monument.
Without the maintenance, Bandelier preservation specialist Jonathan Stark said the walls would crumble within a decade or two.
"The work that we're doing is important to a variety of people," Stark said. "Obviously, the visitors love coming out here and seeing this and learning the history of a place such as this. To the descendants, this is a footprint of their ancestors, something that proves they were here. It gives perspective to their younger generations."
Myron Gonzales, a San Ildefonso Pueblo member who led the crew, said the teens learned skills they can use to round out efforts in their own communities for preserving cultural sites, language and other traditions.
"The biggest factor in developing what they're doing now is being able to provide them with a means of identification," he said. "We come from pueblo communities where in today's society, language is being lost and we're at a crossroads."
The crew was recruited by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which provides stipends and scholarships. The organization plans to recruit more tribal youth to work on possible future preservation projects with Acoma Pueblo and other Native communities in New Mexico.
Follow Susan Montoya Bryan at http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM