When I first moved to this area, many people told me “You’ve got to see the Aztec Ruins, especially the Great Kiva” (pictured above to the back.) Located in Aztec, New Mexico … about a 40 minute drive south of Durango, they are carefully planned, remarkable ruins of buildings that face a central plaza. The largest structure was a massive house with at least 500 rooms.
The structures were not built by the Aztecs of central Mexico, it was mistakenly named by Anglo settlers who’d heard stories of Cortez’s conquests of Mexico and assumed it was built by the Aztec.
The best place to start is in the Visitor’s Center where park rangers offer materials to read about the history, and touring maps. Another great thing about this place is that it’s self-guided. They hand you a map and ‘turn you loose’ to tour at your own pace, in structures that date back to the 11th and 13th centuries.
Many artifacts are on display in the Visitor’s Center.
In the farthest gallery there is a small room where they play a wonderful movie about the ruins, telling the history and also describing why it is important to leave things as they are … to not move anything or take a stone. In fact, it’s amazing that so many of the stones and some artifacts remain because the area was looted many times over, and early settlers carted off bricks to build their homesteads.
Back courtyard from the Visitor’s Center, and entrance to the ruins …
… where we saw this lucky little guy hitting the jackpot … corn from metate stones that are used to demonstrate how the ancestral Pueblo people ground their corn.
The Great Kiva, excavated in 1921 and rebuilt in 1934.
You walk down the steps and immediately notice the temperature drop, as you are below ground. The interior is about the size of a high school basketball court. It’s very peaceful there, a place used for community gatherings and ceremonies.
I have spoken with many people who have felt the presence of spirits in this kiva.
In this video, park ranger Tracy Bodnar describes the Great Kiva, the materials used, details and the firebox with two floor vaults.
Another large kiva located in the central plaza, it was once covered with a ceiling.
We were free to roam about the buildings … connected rooms surrounding the plaza.
Here is a video about the structures and construction time frames.
In this video Tracy discusses the architectural details and great care taken in the design.
We ducked through this small doorway and into front rooms that were used for daily activities, residences, that led to …
… the back series of connected rooms … a long corridor that was dark and cooler. Artifacts found in these areas indicated they were used for storage.
When first excavated, they found original roofs … many of the ceilings are made of 900 year old timbers.
The tour book notes points of interest … here is a mat made of willow branches. It is in the same location where is was left 800 years ago, and was most likely used as a divider between rooms, and to block door and window openings.
We took our time walking the grounds. Here at marker 15 is the Hubbard Tri-Wall Site … this is a rare structure of three concentric walls divided into 22 rooms with a kiva in the center.
Here is a video about the site, that was named after the Hubbard family who once farmed this land.
When we visit ruins and parks I like to look through the sign-in book to see where people have come from. As you can see, the Aztec Ruins attract people from all across the globe.
If you are traveling through Southwestern Colorado, visiting Durango or Mesa Verde, traveling though northern New Mexico or near Chaco Canyon, be sure to make a note to see the Aztec Ruins.