Series – Photos of a Family Road Trip Adventure
Welcome to Aztec Ruins National Monument, the next stop on this family road trip adventure. Once home to a thriving ancestral Pueblo settlement, this World Heritage site is now home to an impressive array of stone structures and artifacts, all that remains of this ancient village.
Explore with us the remains of an ancestral Pueblo Indian village. Learn about a long-ago culture, and how a people’s migration journey led them to this location. Marvel upon the engineering feats required to build these structures that have withstood the test of time. Ponder why this community was abandoned a mere 200 years after its construction.
Step Back 900 Years in Time At Aztec Ruins
Over 900 years ago, an ancient society continued their migration journey across the American Southwest. Their journey stalled right here in the Animus River Valley, located along the New Mexico and Colorado borders. Perhaps it was the location, situated between the Mesa Verde settlements to the north, and the Chaco Canyon settlements to the south. Perhaps it was the abundance of nearby food and water to feed their families.
Whatever the reason, these ancestral Pueblo people put down roots, building homes for their families and ceremonial structures for their beliefs and rituals. Then suddenly, they were gone just 200 years later. Today, many of these same structures remain, allowing a glimpse into the lives of those very ancients who once settled in this corner of the American Southwest.
Step inside a massive reconstructed Great Kiva, the largest in the Southwest. Follow along footpaths past a Pueblo Great House built over 900 years ago. Imagine the engineering skills these ancient settlers required to build this massive 400+ room complex standing three stories tall. Feel yourself transported back to a time long ago.
Walk the edges of an excavated kiva. Get a feel for just how big this below ground ceremonial structure really is. Ponder the efforts it must have required to dig down into the earth and then build up these stone walls. Wonder how long it must have taken to fully construct the kiva with their more primitive, simplistic tools.
Spend a few moments imagining life here over 900 years ago. Imagine the people of this society gathering inside the kiva, taking their places along the stone benches for a ceremonial ritual. If you listen closely, and imagine real hard, you can almost hear the drums beating as the ceremony begins.
On The Trail of an Ancestral Pueblo Society
Meander along a half mile self guided trail past ancestral Pueblo structures dating back to the 1100’s AD. Archeologists believe that the Aztec site began as a satellite community of its much larger neighbors to the south in Chaco Canyon.
By about 1300, this ancient community was beginning to fade from daily life for reasons not fully understood. Perhaps it was an overextended population that exhausted the nearby natural resources. Maybe it was climate change. Perhaps it was both, or something else altogether, that caused these people to abandon their village.
Join an Interpretive Program lead by a knowledgeable Aztec Ruins Park Ranger. Listen to her descriptions, and learn more about this storied site. Hear how ancient builders excavated, filled and leveled more than two acres of land to create their new homes.
Examine the ancient masonry used to build their community. Contemplate how so many sandstone blocks were chiseled to exacting sizes for near perfect fit with each other. Marvel upon the near precise alignment of doorway upon doorway, running symmetrically with each other throughout the length of the Great House.
Step inside the very same rooms that ancient Pueblo families also once entered. Look up, down, and all around for evidence of the original residents. Marvel upon the remains of an original reed mat used to separating two rooms, still hanging in the doorway where it was abandoned so many years ago.
Note the original wood timbers still holding the ceilings and doorways intact, and the ancient grinding stones that remain along floors as if waiting for their owners to return.
Examine up close an ancient grinding stone, patterns of its ancient owner’s grinding efforts still evident. Ponder who might have used this stone, and what might have been ground within it. Imagine life in these rooms, as it might have been some 900 years in the past.
Check out the mysterious green strip of stone extending the full length of one wall of the Aztec West structure. Was its purpose simply decorative? Or was there a more symbolic element to its existence? No one fully understands why this strip of stone is there, nor what drove these ancient builders to a quarry several miles away for the green stones.
Examine Artifacts at The Visitor Center
Take time to explore the Aztec Ruins Visitor Center. Watch the video and learn more about the ancestral Pueblo community that built these buildings, and made their lives upon the land.
Witness remains of an ancient life here along the Animus River Valley. Shards of pottery, ceremonial vessels pieced back together, discarded stone tools, and other ancient artifacts are on display, telling a story of life long gone from these lands.
Examine a photo-copy of ancient Indian writings found within one of the Great House’s rooms. Contemplate it’s meaning, why this story was drawn upon the wall, and by whom.
Step outside the Visitor Center for one more glance into an ancient society’s remains. Soak it all in one last time, before saying good-bye to this incredible glimpse into an ancient society’s history and culture.
Where Is Aztec Ruins National Monument?
Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in Aztec, New Mexico, about an hour south of Durango, Colorado. The monument is open year round from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Plan on two to three hours to explore this fascinating piece of American Southwest history and culture.
Note that Aztec Ruins National Monument charges a $5 per person entrance fee. Those under 16 are free, as are America The Beautiful pass holders. Aztec Ruins is well worth its fee to learn more about ancestral Pueblo life, as well as to support our national park system.
Have You Been to Aztec Ruins?
Our family enjoyed exploring this fascinating period of history, learning about the people who once worked these lands, and the village they lived in. But the day is still young, and there is more we need to see today! Time to move on to our next adventure – Four Corners Monument!
Have you been to Aztec Ruins National Monument? Did you also think it was a fascinating experience worth driving off the beaten path for? Do share!
Catch the rest of the Series – Photos of A Family Road Trip Adventure.
- Road Tripping in Colorado and Utah – Photos of A Family Adventure
- Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserver, Colorado
- Welcome to the Iconic Four Corners Monument, USA!
- Inside Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park – Snapshots of an Amazing, Enlightening Experience
- Inside Animus Forks – A Colorado Mining Ghost Town Experience
- A Day of Experiences In Canyons of The Ancients & Hovenweep Nat’l Monuments
- Hiking Into The Devil’s Garden – Arches National Park
- 5 Favorite Moments – A Photo Journey Through Arches National Park
- Exploring Sego Canyon’s Ancient Rock Art & Historic Ghost Town
All images by C.Biederman.