Aztec Ruins National Monument

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Aztec Ruins National Monument became one of our favorite sites on a recent trip to the Four Corners area. This monument is one of three sites protected by the National Park Service along with Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon National Monument.

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We were travelling south from Durango to Albuquerque (check out the Bingo sheet we created for our kids to survive this long car ride) and decided to stop in the small town of Aztec, New Mexico. Aztec Ruins is located right in the town, and there is a Visitor’s Center where you can do the Junior Ranger program and a small museum to visit. The Junior Ranger program was wonderful. They had different pamphlets for each age, and they were mostly scavenger hunts for things in the museum.

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The pamphlets are perfect for the kids to earn their Junior Ranger badge.
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We love this FREE program offered by the National Parks.

The museum takes you through the development of some of the Native American culture in the area including the separation of some of the modern Indian tribes. The movie at the Visitor’s Center is about 15 minutes, and it convinced us that we had to make the trip to Chaco Canyon.

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The museum is not large, but it has some really cool displays inside.
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The touch screens entertained our toddler for quite awhile.
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The museum is actually the original house of the first person to discover the ruins.

The real reason to stop at Aztec Ruins National Monument is, of course, the Aztec Ruins. There is one major site that you can visit, and several other sites that are in development. One thing that makes this site different is that it doesn’t appear to be an excavation like Mesa Verde or Chaco Canyon. This is a free standing structure that covers several acres. The masonry is large rocks set in mud mortar, and the straightness of the walls and gravity seem to be the only thing holding this structure up for the last 800 years.

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The ruins are immense! We couldn’t believe how well they were still standing after all this time.
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No one is really sure what the green stripe of rocks is for. I think it’s for decoration, like a chair rail.

Make sure to ask for the trail guide before you head out to the ruin, as it will lead you through the monument. The first stop is at an overview of the site. It is large and sprawling and walls rise in front of you in the distance. We also saw a few bunnies on the way to the second spot, the Great Kiva. This is the largest replica of a kiva ever made, and it is made after the pattern of the Great Kiva in Chaco Canyon. There is a reverent feel in the kiva, and a sign reminds you of the sacred nature of the structure. We’ve been in underground pithouses before, but the kiva has a “finished” feeling. Steps lead down and the pillars, fire pits, and roof are complete. The walls have been plastered and decorated, and there is a stairway across the floor leading up and out what is sometimes called the keyhole. In an adjacent room we saw a clutch of bats hanging from the ceiling about three feet above our heads!

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After leaving the Visitor’s Center, you will come to the reconstructed Kiva. It’s HUGE!
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Inside the Kiva, you can see what we think it probably looked like!
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We saw these bats hanging on the ceiling in one of the small rooms inside the Kiva.
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Outside you will see the ruins of the Kiva that once existed at Aztec Ruins National Monument. I couldn’t capture it in one picture.
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It was in the front and center of the rest of the ruins.
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The ruins are truly amazing.

After the kiva, you walk around the front of the ruins and through the main plaza. You can easily imagine this village full of people, with children playing, women grinding corn, and turkeys wandering about the plaza. There is one section of the ruin that you can walk inside. You go through a series of doors that are all perfectly aligned and there are doors opening into an inner courtyard. Many of these doors have been covered with plexiglass making them windows, and you can see artifacts inside. There are manos and metates and other things, but the most impressive is the yucca plants that are still hanging above you in one section of the roof. They would layer the leaves over the boards and the yucca plants are still well preserved after 900 years!

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Some of the doorways are quite small to enter the ruins.
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The windows and doors all lined up. It is amazing since they didn’t have the tools and technology we have today.
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We loved being able to walk through the ruins up close.
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Our kids thought it was fun to explore these ruins, and they especially loved finding low places for mom and dad to crawl through.
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This is the amazing roof that is 900 years old and still in tact.
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You can see the boards that they placed for the roof here sticking out.

We continued through the ruin, admiring the masonry and enjoying the feeling of antiquity and hoping that our boys had learned something about our world. We loved how much free exploring you were able to do because we felt we could really appreciate and see the amazing ruins. You can do the same by visiting Aztec Ruin National Monument.

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Aztec Ruins National Monument is amazing. We would go back here in a heartbeat.
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We always snap a picture by the sign!

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