History of the Southwest Heritage Foundation, Inc.

Started by Skip and Alex Lange in 1995, Southwest Heritage Foundation (SWHF) is non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Bluff’s cultural resources.

For almost thirty years, SWHF has purchased land surrounding Bluff’s most important archeological and cultural treasures. SWHF purchased over 15 acres on Bluff’s Cemetery Hill to preserve the Bluff Great House site as well as the cemetery. Additionally, SWHF purchased an additional 15 plus acres to preserve an important Pueblo I archeological site.

In May 1995, an Indianapolis businessman named Skip Lange and his wife, Alex, purchased 7.5 acres of private land in Bluff on what is known as Cemetery Hill.  The site includes a great house and great kiva.  Skip and Alex are frequent visitors to the Four Corners region and are committed to the conservation of the cultural resources in the area.  The purchase was motivated by a desire to save The Bluff Great House site for future archaeological research and as a potential attraction for Bluff City.

To manage the site, Skip established the Southwest Heritage Foundation, Inc. (SWHF) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in January 1995, and donated the site to the Foundation.  In March of that year, the Foundation began searching for an institution to conduct archaeological research at the site, ultimately settling on the Univeristy of Colorado (CU), Boulder, which proposed a series of archaeological field schools for students.

In October 1995, Drs. Catherine M. Cameron and Stephen H. Lekson conducted a one-week testing program at the site to develop a “research design” for the field school.  Having developed a research design that included consultation with members of the regional American Indian community, CU conducted field schools at the site during the month of June from 1996 – 1998.

In September 1996, a local developer proposed a 10 – 20 family development on 5.5 acres of Bluff Cemetery Hill.  SWHF began a letter-writing campaign to raise the funds to purchase the acreage.  By September 1997, SWHF was successful in purchasing the 5.5 acre parcel to provide a buffer for the Great House site as well as the neighboring historic cemetery.  We are grateful to the Eccles Foundation for their generous, matching grant that aided our fundraising along with the many private donations.

After a 3-year hiatus for laboratory testing and the publication of findings, the University of Colorado returned to the Bluff Great House site.  Three more field schools ewere conducted in June 2001- 2003.  The result of the CU field schools is a major publication by Dr. Catherine M. Cameron.  The book, Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan, Excavations at the Bluff Great House, was published in 2009 by The University of Arizona Press.

In January 2004, SWHF was able to purchase an additional 2.3 acres of private property on Cemetery Hill.  While more private property remains around the site, SWHF has been able to effectively isolate the important cultural resources on the hill.

In 2006, the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) contacted SWHF regarding the purchase and preservation of one of Utah’s most important Pueblo I sites.  As the site is in Bluff, SWHF undertook the mission.  In 2010, after four years of fundraising, SWHF was able to purchase 15+ acres of the site, thus continuing our mission of preservation of Bluff’s cultural resources.  Once again, SWHF owes a debt of gratitute to the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for their matching grants and the numberless private donations that allowed us to qualify for these generous grants.

Skip Lange’s vision for the Foundation included a board of directors that involved local residents of Bluff.  In spite of the financial limitations of such a board, due to the generosity of friends throughout the world, the Southwest Heritage Foundation, Inc. has succeeeded beyond any of our dreams.