Here, you can drive right up to the monument entrance, walk through the visitor center, and step back 900 years into an Ancestral Puebloan community. For the ultimate in convenience, the ruins are within walking distance of an RV park and the town of Aztec, New Mexico.
Looking Back At The Past
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. Early European settlers erroneously attributed the ruins to the Aztecs of Mexico, hence the name.
The builders took extraordinary efforts 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 here, they used exotic materials, including Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir from mountains 20 miles to the north, and stone from quarries three miles away.
The Toll Of Time And Avarice
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 is 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 at Aztec Ruins have been reinforced and stabilized, which makes them 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, leaving 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.
Very interesting ruins! I like that there is a campground right there. Any ruin is exciting to visit. I find it so interesting that it doesn’t matter which sites you visit, no one knows why that group of people left and where they went. Thanks for sharing:)
Merry Christmas to you and Eric:)
Pam, having the campground just a few blocks away from the ruins was certainly convenient! As you know, there’s a lot of conjecture as to why the people left various sites, from drought to conflict. I like what the pueblo peoples say—it was just part of their migration journey.
Merry Christmas to you and John! :-)
No food pics! Stunning photos as usual. Hope you have a sweet holiday, wherever you are! We’ll be at the coast, looking at the Oregon Salmon River meet the Pacific Ocean. Storm warnings and all!
Best to you both.
Haha, Santa Fe is coming up with some food pics, Nancy! Spending the holiday at the coast sounds lovely, storms included. Wishing you and Bryan cozy and happy holidays. Would love to see you in Ashland!
Love the sepia for the ruins! May your holidays be filled with love and laughter and the memories carry that light into the new year. Thank you for taking the time and thoughtfulness to share your journey with us thru word and image all these years…bless you both!
Diana, I’m so happy that you’ve traveled along with us all these years, whether via the blog or in “real life.” Wishing you and John a holiday filled with all that delights you. Much love to you both.
We love Aztec the town and the ruins! Ruins Road is the place to stay, so close you can visit the park just about any time. Love the pictures; brings back good memories of our time there with our friend Sara who lives close by. See you soon!
Karen, I’ll bet you guys have some great photos of the ruins! We’re looking forward to seeing you two soon.
Solstice Blessings and Merry Christmas to you and Eric. This looks like our kind of place :-) Love the tall walls. While the reconstruction does take away some of the authentic power of the ruins, the preservation is lovely for experiencing their true size. The VC looks wonderful.
Jodee, I thought of you and Bill when we visited here — I think you would really enjoy the ruins and the Visitor Center. You’re right, the preservation/restoration allows for a unique experience, especially in the Great Kiva. Wishing you and Bill all of the blessings of a joyful holiday season! :-)
How convenient! It seems to me we still have some ruins to explore in the future and I don’t think we will ever find out why the people left.
And this one is just like Walnut Canyon NM in terms of convenience.
ML, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of ruins to explore! We were in Walnut Canyon a few years ago and enjoyed that one, too.
This is a very interesting place to visit. We were there in May 1995 and found it very accessible and interesting. I remember there was a trading post nearby.
Marcia, we were happy to discover Aztec Ruins — we had no idea it was so easy to visit. Would have loved to visit the trading post. I’ll have to look for it next time we’re in the area.
This is a beautifully written and photographed post, a place I would love to go. The sepia pictures are perfect! The questions about these ancient people are compelling. What a shame that the site was looted before our more modern archaeological techniques could have a chance to discover more. I just love spots where I can walk where I want to go and a FHU for $20 is becoming a serious rarity. Thanks for taking me with you. Your pictures really make me feel as if I am there.
Thanks, Sherry. :) You said exactly what modern archeologists have said — we would know much more about these sites if they hadn’t been looted or crudely excavated. Fortunately they’re protected now.
We visited the ruins a few years back coming down from Mesa Verde just before the devastating wildfire that destroyed acres in the park. We’ll have to plan another trip to the area.
You are missing the snowstorms in Ashland, Raul is really pining for warmer weather.
Thalia, I can’t say I’m sorry that we’re missing the snowstorms, even though I’m glad Ashland is getting plenty of precipitation. Maybe it’s time for you guys to hitch up the Casita and head south for a bit! Happy holidays! :-)