Aztec National Monument

A half hour up US-550 (and a few blocks west on W. Aztec Boulevard and right on Ruins Road, just after the bridge over the Animas River) and the tourist finds oneself at Aztec National Monument, home of Aztec Ruins.  Construction began in the early 12th century and (according to Steve Lekson’s A History of the Ancient Southwest, p. 154) continued through the late 13th century.  Aztec, like Salmon, Chaco, and Paquime, line up at 108 degrees west.  Coincidence? As someone pointed out, it would be a coincidence if it was a coincidence.  Here you have a people who built ceremonial structures oriented strictly north-to-south, a people who connected (some of) these structures with large works of civil engineering, and their alignment along this meridian is a coincidence?

After visiting the other sites, Aztec was a bit of a letdown.  (Remember, I was sorely craving food and coffee at that point and my feet were a disaster.)

While Salmon was on the periphery of Bloomfield, Aztec Ruins butt right up to a neighborhood.  I’ve got to wonder how many pot shards were churned up when this community was built.

One enters Aztec through it’s visitors center.  I approached the ticket counter and attempted to use my ICOMOS card to get free admission.  The non-uniformed employee or volunteer behind the counter wasn’t familiar with ICOMOS and she asked me to wait while she asked a ranger for advice.  The ranger was equally unfamiliar with ICOMOS, which is an advisory body to UNESCO’s World Heritage program.  I paid the $5, grabbed a laminated guide, and stepped into their auditorium to watch a film on a huge flat-panel television operating on a continuous loop. I found the content of the film to be a bit stale.  The small museum behind the auditorium provided some interesting artifacts, just as with Salmon Ruins.

I emerged from the visitors center to the West Ruin.  According to the Park’s brochure, “the three-story buiding had over 500 rooms and many kivas…” Aztec is part of the World Heritage List designation that includes both Chaco and Aztec.  It would be useful to include the Salmon Ruins in the designation, which also includes “Pierre’s Site, Halfway, House, Twin Angles, Kin Nizhoni, and Casamero. My guess is that it was excluded because Aztec is not on U.S. Government property as are the lions share of U.S. inscriptions.


Unlike Salmon, which was excavated in the 1970s under more modern standards that provide for less reconstruction and more stabilization of ruins as found, the Aztec ruins include some heavy reconstruction.  Earl Morris of the American Museum of Natural History had a major role in Aztec’s excavation and reconstruction.  The extent of reconstruction provides the visitor with a sense that he is visiting a museum as much an important religious center for the predecessors of extant Pueblos.

The tour pathway takes the visitor down a reconstructed corridor of 11 rooms in the northwest section of the West Ruin.  It ultimately deposits the visitor at the elaborately reconstructed Great Kiva, before returning to the Visitor Center.

The Great Kiva is impressive. Indeed, it’s the highlight of a visit to Aztec.

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