Aztec Ruins National Monument certainly is a destination that must be included on the list when planning a native heritage tour of the west. This ancient great house pueblo is located in the Four Corners region of New Mexico near the Colorado Border. The Four Corners region is an intriguing area of archeological study that includes native heritage sites in the Canyons Of The Ancients, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde and Ute Mountain. Chaco Canyon is also part of the overall picture, because the long arms of this ancient civilization stretch all the way into this region as well. As can be imagined, there will be plenty to ponder over when doing a native heritage tour and the discoveries found along the way will help to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
The Salmon Ruins and Aztec Ruins are only about 10 miles apart on the New Mexico side of Four Corners and how these two ancient pueblos fit into the overall picture will not be readily apparent without doing some prior research. It is easy to assume that these two great house communities are isolated villages of their own or they are somehow connected with the nearby Mesa Verde civilizations, but there is a less obvious distant connection to consider. The Chaco Culture was renowned for their vast agricultural system, which was highly organized complete with long roads connecting several satellite pueblos. Recent research material confirms that the Aztec Ruins and Salmon Ruins actually are Chaco Culture satellite pueblos and the architectural design does help to confirm this theory.
The Aztec Ruins is a large pueblo complex complete with over 400 rooms, several ceremonial kivas and a grand kiva. The layout and artifacts confirm this was an agricultural and ceremonial center, as well as headquarters for regional commerce and trade. The Aztec Pueblo certainly was a bustling community long ago and the reason why it was abandoned is still not clearly understood. Most agree that successive years of severe drought caused the inhabitants to disperse and move on, but nobody really knows for sure.
Oddly enough, the Aztec Ruins is one of the most well preserved Chaco Culture structures and it is the only great house pueblo in the west that has a completely restored grand kiva. A grand kiva is a large round structure that serves as ceremonial center, which compares to a communal church, temple or place of healing. For the most part, only the imagination can provide clues as to what a grand kiva actually used to look like inside when only the stone block masonry can be seen. The Aztec Ruins Grand Kiva restoration was accurately accomplished and the remarkable original interior design is on full display. Slaked lime coats the stone walls to create a smooth white surface and the timbers are intact.
The multi story tall great house structure also offers a unique experience that can be found in few other ancient pueblos out west. The lower floor rooms and the long passageway have remained intact, so visitors can experience what it was like to reside inside this building. The windows looking outside have offered the same views for over a thousand years and it is easy to gaze into the ancient past in this place.
As can be seen, the Aztec Ruins certainly is a great house pueblo like no other and booking a ranger guided tour will greatly enhance the learning experience. Self guided tour books are available in the gift shop, which is also a cultural museum. It takes about a half day to tour this pueblo complex, so it is possible to check out the neighboring Salmon Ruins during the same trip. The shade of the cottonwood trees certainly are alluring for a picnic and there will be plenty to ponder over when gazing at the ancient pueblo. The Aztec Ruins is just one piece of the big puzzle, yet it is one of the most important archaeological sites in this region, so be sure to chalk this destination high on the list!
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