Between 1100 A.D. and late 1200 A.D., this was a thriving cultural regional center—people gathered here for celebrations, religious ceremonies, trade, and social interaction. Located in the far northwestern corner of New Mexico, Aztec Ruins is part of the Ancestral Puebloan migration that included Mesa Verde to the north and Chaco Canyon to the south. (It should be noted here that the ruins received their name when early European settlers attributed the ruins to the Aztecs of Mexico; obviously, the name persisted despite their confusion.)
This must have been a magnificent compound back in the day—the builders went to extraordinary effort to make this place special. Typical building practices at the time relied on adobe mud for walls and local juniper and pinyon pine for roofs. But for Aztec Ruins, the people sought out more exotic materials: ponderosa pine, spruce and Douglas fir from mountains 20 miles to the north, and stone from quarries three miles away. Time and avarice have taken a heavy toll—before being declared a national monument in 1923, the ruins were looted for artifacts, and settlers needing building materials hauled away 12th century hand-hewn stones. Even Earl Halstead Morris, the renowned archeologist who spent years excavating the ruins, used reclaimed timbers from the ruins when building his home on the site (it’s now the interesting and lovely Visitor Center).
The buildings once stood three stories high and contained at least 500 rooms, including a dozen kivas (the Hopi word for ceremonial chamber). In the center of the plaza is the Great Kiva, which today stands as the largest reconstructed kiva anywhere. The nearby Hopi and other pueblo tribes regard this as a sacred place, and return here to honor their ancestors.
In contrast to the remote small ruins we recently visited on Cedar Mesa, the structures here have been reinforced and stabilized—which honestly, makes it feel less compelling. But look closely, and you’ll find original timbers, hand-hewn stone, and even ancient fingerprints left in the mud mortar. There are mysteries here that may never be solved: What is the meaning of the unique green stripes of stone along the western walls? Why are some of the doorways t-shaped? And why did the people depart—and leave their belongings behind?
About the campground: Ruins Road RV Park is conveniently located within walking distance of the monument. The sites are spacious, with full-hook ups and good Verizon coverage. And it’s a bargain at $20.00 per night.
Next Up: Art, Adobe, & Chiles: Santa Fe, NM[portfolio_slideshow]