San Juan County rock formation receives name from federal agency
Molar Rock's name proposed by resident Gary Skiba
FARMINGTON — A little-known rock formation in northern San Juan County may get a little more attention after receiving an official designation from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The agency approved Molar Rock as the name of the pillar at its December quarterly meeting, according to Zack Stauber, chairman of the Geographic Names Committee of the New Mexico Geographic Information Council, which bears responsibility for determining geographic names in the state.
The naming process began early in 2017 when a San Juan County resident, Gary Skiba, submitted an online proposal seeking to have the formation named Molar Rock. Skiba lives 7 miles north of Aztec near Cedar Hill, and as an avid outdoorsman, he said he had visited the pillar several times and was struck by its resemblance to a tooth.
The formation is located on Bureau of Land Management land 3 miles west of where U.S. Highway 550 crosses the Animas River. The 40-foot-tall pillar is a half mile west of a better-known geographic feature named Lion Rock.
Skiba's request first went to the state Geographic Names Committee, which contacted the San Juan County Commission and The Daily Times as part of an effort to solicit local feedback on Skiba's suggestion.
Stauber said county commissioners voiced no concerns about the naming of the formation, and after a story on the issue appeared in the newspaper in June, he received only one comment from a resident. That woman was not opposed to the naming of the rock, but thought Wisdom Rock — an apparent reference to a wisdom tooth — might be a more dignified name for it.
Stauber said the committee forwarded Skiba's proposal to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in Reston, Virginia. That agency was responsible for reaching out to Native American tribes in the area to ensure they didn't already have a name for the pillar.
Federal board members gathered for their quarterly meeting on Dec. 14 and approved the idea two days later. Skiba said he received a letter dated Jan. 3 informing him of the decision.
Skiba said he was pleased by the decision, but he doubts he'll make a habit of getting involved in the naming process.
"There's nothing else I'm planning," he said, though he noted there are many interesting geographic features in the Aztec area that have been given unofficial monikers by residents, including the so-called Cox Canyon Arch. He said he has mixed feelings about naming natural formations just to attract attention to them.
"I think for some unique features, it's best if people don't know about them," he said, referencing the chances of those sites being vandalized or simply being harmed by too much visitation.
Stauber said the naming of the pillar won't result in a big increase in visibility or attention for the rock formation. The main purpose of the naming process is to provide a standardized set of geographic references for federal agencies or their contractors, he said, and he doubts that commercial map makers will note the new designation in their products.
"That one's probably too small," he said.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.