Aztec Ruins National Monument
Contrary to the name, the Aztecs of central Mexico did not build these structures. Early Anglo settlers, convinced that the ruins were of Aztec origin, misnamed the site. The name persisted. Now we know that the people archeologists call "Anasazi" lived here and in the surrounding region. Their descendants, the Puebloan peoples, live in parts of New Mexico and Arizona today.
Aztec's 200-year history of inhabitation was influenced by two centers of Anasazi culture. Sixty-five miles south lay Chaco, a narrow canyon whose floor was filled with structures built over several centuries. During the 1000s and 1100s, Chaco exerted widespread influence as an economic and ceremonial center throughout the 25,000-square-mile San Juan Basin.
By the late 1000s, Aztec joined many other outlying settlements which exhibited Chacoan style architecture, ceramics, and connecting roads. Their residents participated in what archeologists call the Chaco Phenomenon, an extensive social and economic system which reached far beyond the canyon walls at Chaco. With the collapse of this system in the mid 1100s, life changed at Aztec.
A few decades later, people culturally akin to the dwellers of the rugged Mesa Verde country forty miles northwest occupied this area. This second group remodeled the old buildings, using techniques characteristic of the Mesa Verde region. They were farmers and hunters as were the earlier Chacoans, and they prospered for a few generations. But by 1300 they moved on, as did other inhabitants of the region. Today, the Puebloan peoples maintain a rich culture influenced by their ancestors who once occupied this broad expanse.
Visitors can contemplate the lives of the former inhabitants while walking the trail through what was once the largest pueblo here, the West Ruin.
Location: Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on Ruins Road about 3/4 mile north of U.S. Highway 550, just outside the town of Aztec, New Mexico.
Visitor Center: The visitor center features exhibits and a 25-minute video entitled"Anasazi" which is shown several times daily. Books, postcards, slides, posters, replica pottery, and videos are for sale. A trail guide booklet is available to borrow or buy.
Self-Guiding Trail: A 1/4-mile self-guiding trail winds through the West Ruin, the remains of a multi story pueblo of about 400 rooms. The trail passes through several rooms with intact original roofs, as well as the reconstructed Great Kiva, a round semi-subterranean room once important for community activities. Rangers occasionally give interpretive talks during the summer.
Visitors should allow about 1 1/2 hours to see the exhibits, movie, and to walk the trail. The monument is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, and from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. the rest of the year. It is closed Christmas and New Year's Day.
Fees: There is an entrance fee. Children under 17 enter free. Golden Eagle, Golden Age, and Golden Access Passports are honored and available at the information desk.
Services: A shaded picnic area with tables is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Food, gas, and lodging are available in nearby Aztec, and in Farmington, about 15 miles away. Campgrounds include Riverside Park, about one mile away; Navajo Lake State Park, 25 miles east; and several other commercial campgrounds within 20 miles.
Accessibility: A TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) is available. Callers should give adequate signals and allow sufficient hookup time (505) 334-6174 (Voice or TDD). The visitor center, restrooms, a picnic table, and portions of the trail are accessible to wheelchairs.
Weather: Summer temperatures are usually in the 80s and 90s. Afternoon thunderstorms are common during July and August. Fall is usually pleasant, with mild daytime temperatures and crisp nights. Snow usually occurs by Thanksgiving, and falls through the winter. Winter daytime temperatures range from the 20s through 50s, with cold nights. Spring weather is the most variable, with windy days and variable temperatures. Annual precipitation is about 10 inches.
Nearby Towns and Attractions
The Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village is located at 125 N. Main in Aztec - (505)334-9829. The Farmington Museum is at 302N. Orchard in Farmington - (505)599-1174. Salmon Ruin is approximately 2 miles west of Bloomfield on Hwy 64 - (505) 632-2013. Bisti Badlands/DeNaZin Wilderness areas approximately 25 miles south of Farmington on Hwy 371 - (505) 327-5344. Navajo Lake State Park approximately 25 miles east of Aztec on Hwy 173 -(505)632-3245. Outdoor summer dinner theater "Anasazi" and other productions from mid-June through mid-August call (800)448-1240. For specific information regarding lodging and other services call the Aztec Chamber of Commerce (505) 334-9551, the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce (505) 632-0880, the Farmington Chamber of Commerce (505)325-0279, or the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau (505) 326-7602 or (800)448-1240. Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Mesa Verde National Park are within two hours driving time of Aztec.
For area information write or phone: Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau 203 W. Main - Suite 401 Farmington, New Mexico 87401 800-448-1240.
P.O. Box 640
84 County Road 2900
Aztec, NM 87410-0640
(505)334-6174 FAX (505)334-6372
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication