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.