November 13, 2016

11/5/16 - Aztec Ruins NM

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.
There are two bands of green sandstone—one at ground level and the other waist high—that run along some of the West Ruin walls.  The archeologists haven’t a clue why.  I’m finding it interesting when the experts are admitting they don’t know everything.  I guess archeology is a science where it’s okay to admit you don’t have a clue—rather like those who get the weather forecasts wrong.
The first views of West Ruin weren’t terribly impressive. 
The Great Kiva looked a lot more interesting.  The experts think it was a sanctuary and a place for community events.  Archaeologist Earl Morris excavated it in 1921 and rebuilt it in 1934. Most of the kivas we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a bunch by now!) are either ruins or just foundations.  This one is as accurate as they could make it, except probably for the electric lights and the wooden stairs.  I wasn’t sure about the paint, but Morris found plaster that color so he matched it.
I mentioned before the binder they loaned us, which was helpful in figuring out what things were—but very awkward to use.  Picture me with binder in one hand, camera in the other, trying to take pictures and read out loud to George about what we were seeing as we were walking.   Aztec Ruins probably isn’t high on the list of NPS' busiest parks, but those of us who travel to it deserve to have informational signs like they put up in all the other parks.  It’s a whole lot easier to stand in front of a sign and read for yourself what’s there (or just take a picture and read it later, like George frequently does) than it is to juggle binder and camera. 

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. 
The next number in the binder took us to part of the interconnected rooms of the big building.  There are doors leading across a room to another door of another room and then another door. had rained the day before, and since most of the roof is gone, we had to circumnavigate the puddles and mud in each room.  The doors opening directly from the plaza were part of a remodeling project. 
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.
Many of the doors leading inside from the central plaza are T-shaped.  I’m not sure if the experts know why, in which case it’s understandable that I don’t either.  I like them though. 
In some of the little rooms, you can look through the windows to see the grinding stones that the archaeologists found around the site. 
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.
Back outside we followed the path out of the West Ruin and out to the Hubbard Tri-Wall Site.  They apparently excavated it, but then they filled it back up again to support the walls.  There’s nothing about why in the binder, just a mention of how rare multi-walled kivas are, and that they were probably used ceremonially.  There are seven multi-walled kivas at Aztec.  A few of the dwelling walls lie beyond the walls of the kiva.
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  

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