Aztec Ruin

Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5639 - 5662 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 1 hr. 30 mins. (including movie)
Trailhead: Aztec Visitor Center
Fee: $5/person
Attractions: Fully restored Great Kiva

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The Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in Aztec, New Mexico. An extensive ancestral Puebloan ruin, that includes an remarkable, fully restored, great kiva, is protected within the borders of the monument. With the ruins serenely situated among tall cottonwood trees a short distance from the Animas River visitors are able to explore the site with little notice of the hustle and bustle of the neighboring town of Aztec.

The ruins are accessed through the Visitor Center where the entrance fee is collected. The staff provide a quick orientation along with a pamphlet that provides additional information for the interpretive trail that leads through the ruins. The Visitor Center also has a short video that is best viewed before touring the ruins as well as a museum and gift shop.

The trail to the ruins begins through the rear doors of the Visitor Center. Portions of the trail throughout the ruins are wheelchair accessible.

After leaving the Visitor Center the trail climbs a few steps to an area on top of a section of walls. At this point it is easier to see the grand scale of the West Ruin great house. With a little effort you can imagine all of the walls extending upward to their original height, 3 stories high in places, like an impenetrable fortress of 500 rooms surrounding the plaza with people working about their daily chores on the rooftops where ladders lead down into the areas below. A strong sense of community must have been required to build a place such as this.

A good deal of effort seems to have been made to include green stones from a distant quarry as though to convey some special meaning that the architects had in mind. Maybe with one row of the green stones that are mostly enveloping the logs that were surrounded by green while growing while another row forms a green base along the ground they were aiming to imitate what they saw in nature. The walls would have been plastered over so the green stones must have been meant to hold their meaning without being seen.

A short spur in the trail extends out to a tri-walled kiva that has been backfilled with dirt for preservation. Besides the standing walls that you see in the main complex there are rubble piles and other signs of more structures that would have expanded the already impressive ruin.

An outside wall without windows at ground level gives a defensive look to the structure. At 360 feet the north wall is longer than a football field.

Several portions of the ruins are not wheelchair accessible. Visitors that are able have the chance to enter inside the rooms that make up the back wall where they can pass through the inner doorways and proceed from room to room. Special exhibits in a few of the rooms provide greater insight to the construction of the complex and how some of the rooms may have been used.

Careful examination of the stonework reveals more than just square walls. It would be interesting to see just how the light of the sun and the moon and perhaps the appearance of Venus would have interacted with the various aspects of the construction when it was at its zenith. Maybe they had windows through which they could observe the equinoxes or even one for a major lunar standstill.

Saving the best for last the trail continues through the plaza to the reconstructed kiva.

While visiting many of these sites you hear of excavations that revealed walls that were plastered and painted and usually they are reburied for their preservation. Every once in awhile you might visit a ruin like the Balcony House in the Mesa Verde National Park that has a wall that you can see that still has a small amount of plaster exposed. At the Aztec National Monument it is a real treat to see a fully reconstructed building that looks very similar to how it would have appeared when it was first completed. Modern circumstances require the addition of the wooden handrails and steps but regardless of that it is still truly awe inspiring.

One can't help but feel a bit of the ceremonial intent of the space.

Most, but not all, people are already aware that the name Aztec was mistakenly placed on the site by early settlers that thought that Montezuma had settlements this far north. Although that wasn't the case there is plenty of evidence that there was trading occurring throughout the Southwest and what is now Mexico. The ruins at Aztec even predate the actual Aztec Empire by at least several hundred years. The Aztec Ruins National Monument is a must see stop for anyone interested in the history of the southwest before the Europeans arrived on the scene. The monument can easily be combined with a visit to Chaco Canyon and many other sites in the area. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.