If you’re thinking we’re done with Ancient Puebloans in the southwest and moved on to the Aztecs in Mexico, you’re as wrong as the Anglo settlers who named this place. Inspired by popular histories about Cortez they thought Aztecs built these dwellings. The name stuck—so it’s now called Aztec Ruins National Monument. I’m not sure if that’s better than Anasazi, as far as contemporary Puebloans are concerned.
The Four Corners area south of Mesa Verde and north of Chaco Canyon is another remote area of the country. We stayed at Farmington, New Mexico, with the express purpose of visiting Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historical Park. However...recent rains made the dirt roads to Chaco passable for 4-wheel drive only. (I guess that one’s still on my bucket list, although it might not be on George’s.)
Lucky for us, Aztec Ruins is right in the little town of Aztec, and the roads to and from are paved. The ruins are accessed through the Visitor Center, which was handy since that’s where we headed first. There’s a little museum and bookstore—and of course, passport stamps. The ranger gave us a binder with descriptions of what we were going to be seeing, to be brought back when we left.
The first views of West Ruin weren’t terribly impressive.
That said, these round things in the Great Kiva by the number 4 were bases for the pillars that held up the ceiling beams, and came from at least 30 miles away. My guess is that they thought the limestone would last longer than the local sandstone—I’m not an archaeologist but I know sandstone's pretty soft stuff.
These bathtub looking things are called floor vaults, but they’re another thing the experts aren’t very expert on. The door where the stairs are wasn’t the original entrance—the Ancient Puebloans came in through a hole in the roof. There are ladders hanging below the cutouts that I thought were windows.
George is a really good sport about places like this. He doesn’t fit, but rarely balks at exploring. He is good at giving me looks that express exactly how he feels.
There were three stories in this building, so there are stairs all over.
And more kivas...
This is some of the original 800-year-old timber that held up a roof. You can see why a lot of the pueblo’s stones crumbled. And, speaking of crumbling, in 1878 an archaeologist estimated that one quarter of the rocks had been scavenged by settlers for building their own houses. In fact...archaeologist Earl Morris “borrowed” some of the ponderosa beams for his house in 1920. His house is now part of the Visitor Center lobby and bookstore. Standards for archaeologist have definitely changed through the years.
The holes in this wall are where poles were inserted to support the ceiling, but I’m not sure if there was a floor above the ceiling here or not. Sometimes even the binder doesn’t answer my questions.
In a few places they’ve rebuilt part of the ceilings so the tourists can see what it was like. Looks like big trees crossed over with saplings, and then smaller sticks laid across. There were probably bugs.
The West Ruins take on a different look from this side. Deep shadows as the sun got lower helped too.
Here are some of those borrowed pillars that were used in Morris’ house, now converted into the gift shop.
Back in the Visitor Center, I told the ranger what I thought about how awkward the binder was to use. She asked me to fill out a review of the park--so I told NPS the same thing, perhaps a little less tactfully.
More pictures of Aztec Ruins Natl Monument