A museum case is empty. Interpretive signs around the Navajo folk art exhibit are so faded they're difficult to read. Weeds are growing through the nearby parkland and around an ancestral Pueblo ruin.

Salmon Ruins, one of San Juan County's major tourist attractions, is in serious disarray."It all comes down to money," said Larry Baker, the executive director for Salmon Ruins, the accompanying museum and Heritage Park, which preserves the Salmon family homestead. "It's very discouraging that we don't have the appropriate funds to maintain this thing as it should be maintained."

The center, which is run by the San Juan County Museum Association, hasn't been able to afford a maintenance person since 1995.

Baker and Kurt Mantonya, the center's educational coordinator, have been trying to do the maintenance work themselves, but it seems to be a losing battle.

"Kurt and I are the maintenance staff with some volunteer assistance," Baker said. "He cuts weeds and waters the trees in Heritage Park. He gets the weeds off the ruins. I'm changing light bulbs. I'm the plumber."

Baker recently asked the County Commission to give his organization $29,772 to hire a part-time maintenance person, pay the center's utility bills for a year and finance repairs to the complex's observation deck. The county is expected to discuss the request sometime in April.

"What's in it for the county?" Baker said. "We bring school kids here for alternative educational programs. We bring in tourists and dollars to the region, and we protect nonrenewable cultural resources.

"Some people come to the Four Corners just to visit archaeological sites. Salmon is a component of that. We're a draw that brings dollars to Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec."

The Salmon Ruins complex attracted 10,000 visitors last year. An additional 3,300 schoolchildren visited the center for organized tours and field trips.

The ruins complex is charged with preserving Salmon Ruins, which is a Pueblo complex dating from the late 11th century, and the Salmon homestead, one of Bloomfield's original Anglo settlements.

The ruin has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970, and the homestead has been on the State Register of Cultural Properties since 1989.

In theory, the Salmon Ruins complex is supposed to be self-sufficient. It operates on an annual budget of approximately $145,000. The center has three full-time staff members, including Baker, and a weekend receptionist.

This year, the county gave the center $15,000. The other $130,000 was raised through the center's archaeological consulting firm, which does work for the oil and gas industry and freelance ruin stabilization jobs, and by other means.

Other sources of revenue are admission to the ruins complex, grants and the gift shop.

The main source of revenue, however, is the consulting business, which the museum complex operates.

"They remain the main source for the museum to keep its doors open and lights on," Baker said. "Hopefully, they give us the money we need, and they do enough work to run a net profit."

For the last six years, however, the consulting business has struggled, Baker said, which has made it tough on the ruins and museum.

"It depends on the local economy," Baker said.

In early 1997, Salmon Ruins was in serious danger of having to shut its doors. The county came through with an emergency grant of about $26,000, which kept the complex from closing.

This year, things are a little better, Baker said.

The county gave the center $15,000 for operational expenses, and Henry Jackson of Aztec donated $32,000 to the center.

Still, Salmon Ruins needs some help. "We're not doing justice to a National Register property," Baker said. "It's unfortunate."