Salmon Ruin

Round Trip Distance: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5411 - 5467 feet
Cellphone: 4-5 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Salmon Ruin Visitor Center
Fee: $3/adult, $2/senior, $1/ages 6-16
Attractions: Chacoan great house, museum

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The Salmon Ruins is the site of an ancestral Puebloan Great House near Bloomfield, New Mexico. The site is owned and operated by the San Juan County Museum Association. The Salmon Ruins is not a National Monument so for all those with an annual parks pass it will be necessary to pay the entrance fee. Besides the ruins there is also a Visitor Center with a museum and gift shop, as well as a library, Heritage Park and Pioneer Homestead. More information is available on their website.

The Visitor Center is home to the San Juan County Archeological Research Center and Library. Parking is available on the hill overlooking the area near the Visitor Center or by driving down an access road to another lot near the Pioneer Homestead and Heritage Park.

The trail to the ruins begins near the old Salmon Homestead.

After the site was excavated some of it was backfilled with dirt to help support the walls. In this photo piles of dirt can be seen supporting sections of the long north wall.

This is an interpretive site with numbered signs that correspond to a trail guide that points out interesting facts about the ruin. Complementary guides, that need to be returned before leaving, are loaned to visitors or a personal copy can be purchased in the gift shop for $3.

The guide has a picture inside that was taken by Timothy O'Sullivan in 1874. All that can be seen in the picture are portions of the third story walls with no trees or other buildings of any kind in the area. Virtually everything that you see here was revealed by digging out centuries of dirt. How many sandstorms, and how intense do they need to be, to fill an area like this in only 800-900 years?

The guide mentions that the ground floor contained 150 rooms, with 67 more rooms on the second floor and an unknown number on the third level. Also detailed are the various purposes for which some of the rooms were used that they were able to deduce according to the materials and artifacts that were found in each. One of the rooms in this picture has an opening that allowed for making sunrise astronomical observations on the solstices or equinoxes.

One of the main highlights of the ruin is the Tower Kiva. A ceremonial 'Lizard Woman Effigy' that was excavated from this kiva is on display in the museum. Across the plaza from this block of rooms there is also a 'Great Kiva'.

This Chacoan style kiva is of a later date. The deflector between the ventilator in the south wall and the fire pit is also much more elaborate than the typical flat stone seen in many kivas.

A real treat when visiting a site such as this is to find a museum on site that contains many of the items that were excavated here. Many times everything is carted off by vandals or sent to far away museums where it is harder to make a tie between the item and its place of origin. It is also nice that the main room is somewhat of a reflection of a great kiva with a skylight taking the place of the sipapu or opening that represents the place of emergence from the world below into this one.

The Visitor Center and the gate to the lower parking area closes at 5 pm. We arrived on site about 10 minutes before closing but we were still allowed to tour the ruin as long as we parked near the Visitor Center and walked down the hill from there. The trail guide pointed out some unique items which are now in the museum that we had paid little attention to so we are already looking forward to another visit when we have more time to look around. With the Heritage Park, Pioneer Homestead, museum and picnic area a family with school age kids will find everything they need to have an enjoyable time at the Salmon Ruin (other than a picnic basket). If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.