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Virtual tour of Chaco, other historic sites set for Aug. 1 livestream event

'America's Summer RoadTrip 2020' a 12-hour event

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The Kin Beneola is one of the Puebloan ruins at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which will be featured in a livestream online event called " America's Summer Roadtrip 2020" on Aug. 1.
  • The tour will offer viewers a one-hour, behind-the-scenes look at each of the 12 locations it is featuring.
  • The live-steam event will begin at 7 a.m. Mountain time on Aug. 1 and continue until 7 p.m.
  • The segment on Chaco is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Mountain time.

FARMINGTON — Lee Wright, the cofounder of a national nonprofit organization that seeks to help people develop a broader understanding of history, says there long has been a prevailing belief among those who manage historic sites that it is not a good idea to expose too much of their location's offerings to an online audience.

The fear, he says, is that if you show people everything you've got in a virtual setting, they won't bother to visit the site in person.

"Our feeling is just the opposite," said Wright, who also serves as the president of The Pursuit of History, an organization that stages popular "history camps" in such locations as Colorado, Virginia and Philadelphia. Those day-long, immersive experiences expose participants, primarily adults, to a series of presentations, panels and roundtable discussions on various historic subjects.

Lee Wright

With those history camps on hold this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright and Carrie Lund, the CEO and other co-founder of The Pursuit of History, were exploring new ways to fulfill their mission of engaging adults in conversations about history and connecting them with historic sites in their communities and across the country.

They settled on launching a new program called "America's Summer Roadtrip 2020," a 12-hour livestream event that will take place Aug. 1 at historic sites across the country, including Chaco Culture National Historic Park near Nageezi. The tour will offer viewers a one-hour, behind-the-scenes look at each of the 12 locations it is featuring, with most of those segments streaming live.

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"This is exactly the way you bring more people to your site," Wright said, explaining his belief that someone who learns about Chaco in this in-depth format might be more inclined to actually visit the site than someone who receives only limited information about it via some other medium.

The livesteam event will begin at 7 a.m. mountain time on Aug. 1 and continue until 7 p.m. The segment on Chaco is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. mountain time.

The virtual road trip will include stops at various Revolutionary War sites on the East Coast, as well as segments on the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the Molly Brown House in Denver, the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in California and the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in New Jersey.

A doorway is pictured at Penasco Blanco at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which will be featured in a livestream virtual tour on Aug. 1.

Personnel from each of those properties will take viewers on a virtual tour of those heritage sites that includes material that an in-person visitor would not see.

The Pursuit of History has presented a good deal of virtual programming in the past, including weekly interviews with history authors, but Wright said "America's Summer Roadtrip 2020" is a different animal.

"We thought, we can do something much more interesting than a talking head on a Zoom video," he said.

When they envisioned the project, Wright and Lund were intent on giving viewers the virtual experience of taking a nationwide trip during a time when many people don't feel like it is safe to travel. Chaco Culture National Historic Park appealed to them because it represents a slice of history considerably different than what is commonly found elsewhere, and that helped ensure the diversity of the subject matter, they said.

The masonry ruins of Casa Chiquita  are pictured at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

"I have not been to Chaco, and neither has Carrie, but I have been to Mesa Verde (National Park in southwest Colorado)," Wright said. "The more we read about the site, the more we thought, 'This is exactly what we want to be doing.'"

Lund said Chaco may not have as much name recognition as Mesa Verde, but that doesn't make its ruins any less impressive or significant.

"This will help people learn about a part of history they may not be familiar with," she said.

Even for those who understand and appreciate what Chaco has to offer, the comparatively remote location of the park can discourage some people from visiting it. Wright said that wasn't one of the criteria he and Lund considered when they chose the 12 sites to be included in the road trip, but it is something that should make the show more interesting to people, he said.

Carrie Lund

Unfortunately, that remote location — and the often-unreliable nature of the park's technological infrastructure — also will keep the project's organizers from streaming live from Chaco as they will at most of the other sites. The Chaco segment will be put together and recorded by park rangers in the days ahead, Lund said, and the live portion of the stop will take place at Aztec Ruins National Monument, Chaco's sister location. Lund said that segment will include a question-and-answer portion.

Wright acknowledged the technological challenge the entire project presents and said he fully anticipates there will be some issues.

"The odds you can do 12 hours of streaming video and everything goes flawlessly are low," he said, laughing. "For NBC to do 12 hours of the Olympics is one thing, but for us, it's another. … So we said, 'Let's make sure there's a fall-back plan in case of bad weather or a technology issue."

A tower kiva at Kin Ya'a is one of the attractions at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Wright said the response the livestream event gets will dictate whether The Pursuit of History makes the virtual road trip an annual event.

"If this is something that's popular, we'd love to do it next year," he said.

Lund said she understands that few people will have the time or inclination to sit through the entire show. But she said the format of the project is designed to allow viewers to come and go throughout the day and perhaps revisit it later.

"America's Summer Roadtrip 2020" will be livestreamed at AmericasSummerRoadtrip.org. It will be streamed and archived on The Pursuit of History Facebook page.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or meastering@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.