Aztec Ruins National Monument

Written by on June 10, 2015 in NM History & Heritage - Comments Off on Aztec Ruins National Monument

Called the “Place of Flowing Water” by the descendents of the ancient Puebloans who once lived here, Aztec Ruins is actually misnamed, since the Aztec people never lived here. Early settlers mistakenly thought that people from the Aztec Empire in Mexico created these striking buildings. The ancient Pueblo people who did live here probably had closer ties to the dwellers of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon and likely had never even heard of the Aztecs.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
“Place of Flowing Water” gets its name thanks to the nearby Animas River. The river is born from the snow melt of the La Plata Mountains in southwestern Colorado. It tumbles 45 miles, rapidly losing elevation, until it comes to the San Juan Basin. This constant source of water was the reason the Pueblo people picked this location. The fertile river valleys allowed them to cultivate vast tracks of land using a huge network of irrigation ditches, many still in use today. Plentiful water allowed them to build two large 400 to 500-plus room “apartment” complexes, three stories in height, to support a large population. The East and West Ruins probably functioned as an administrative, trade and ceremonial hub for smaller settlements and individual families living all along the Animas River.

On a bench that overlooks the Animas River, the walls at Aztec Ruins are often three feet thick in places. That’s twice as thick as the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, although the architects may well have shared building ideas. The builders created a core of rubble and small stones that they overlaid with a veneer of finely shaped stone, very like the style found in Chaco Canyon to the south. It took the builders nearly 200 years to complete these great structures … from 1100 – 1300 A.D.

A half-mile self-guided trail takes you through the West Ruins and winds through the rooms built centuries ago. At the end of the trail, visitors can enter the Great Kiva — more than 40 feet in diameter and semi-subterranean — the kiva was used for large religious ceremonies and social meetings. During the summer months, rangers offer a variety of interpretive talks, lectures and demonstrations of traditional Native American crafts.

The monument is open year around except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days, however, the winter months can be rather chilly. Average temperatures ranges from 20 to 50 degrees on winter days and the monument receives regular light snowfalls from November – March or even April. Summer temperatures range from 80 to 100 degrees. In either season, it’s a good ideas to have plenty of water as the climate is very dry.

Although there is no camping in the park, Navajo Lake State Park and Angel Peak have great options and are conveniently close. The nearby towns of Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington offer plenty of options for lodging, dining, goods and services.

Other attractions in the area include:
Top 5 Things To Do In Durango
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
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Mesa Verde National Park
Ouray, Colorado

Aztec Ruins National Monument
84 County Road 2900 (“Ruins Road”)
Aztec, NM 87410
Phone: 505-334-6174 xt. 30

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