Utah officials are showing a growing awareness and concern to protect and promote as tourist attractions the ancient Indian ruins in the Four Corners area of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Unfortunately, the region is so large, remote, and sparsely populated that it is difficult to safeguard the ruins against pothunters and vandals.

That's why the state needs to do more to promote some of the Anasazi Indian ruins as tourist attractions, in effect making them state parks and bringing them under full-time protection of park rangers. In addition, this use of the ruins has the potential to bolster tourism in some of Utah's most economically deprived areas.The Anasazi, known in Indian culture as the "ancient ones," presumably were farmers in a rugged and inhospitable region. They mysteriously vanished about A.D. 1300, leaving behind traces of their culture in thousands of sites in some of the area's most inaccessible locations.

But that relative inaccessibility has not saved many of the sites from looters, pothunters and vandals destroying their archaeological value. Many of the artifacts are taken as souvenirs. Others are sold to private collectors and museums, even though there are laws against such poaching.

Utah needs a museum in the region to house Anasazi artifacts that have been removed from known locations, thus saving them from pothunters and vandals.

Efforts were made in the Utah Legislature in 1990 to acquire $850,000 to upgrade the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding, bringing it up to federal museum standards for care and storage of artifacts. At present, many Utah Anasazi artifacts that do end up in museums are in out-of-state locations.

Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, currently is seeking $1.1 million to start a five-year program to construct a year-round visitors center and museum in the Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa area in San Juan County.

As Orton points out, "We are rapidly losing much of our cultural heritage to greed, vandalism, carelessness and neglect." The Bureau of Land Management does not have the resources - indeed it would take a vast army - to keep treasure seekers from plundering burial sites and the stone structures in which the Anasazi once lived.

Clearly, there needs to be a federal-state partnership to promote and protect existing Anasazi sites. At the same time, artifacts from many locations ought to be removed to an adequate museum as a way of rescuing them for future generations - and safely displaying them to visitors.