aztec ruins national monument

From the late 1000s to the late 1200s, ancestral Puebloan people at Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico planned and built a settlement encompassing large public buildings, smaller structures, earthworks, and ceremonial buildings. The extended community here rivaled Chaco Canyon, 55 miles south, which flourished between 850 and 1130.

The first inhabitants here were influenced by Chaco architecture, ceramics and ceremonial life.  At first, it may have been a place that supported Chaco activities.  When Chaco’s influence waned after 1100, it may have been a center in its own right.

Early farmers here took advantage of the Animas River’s steady flow across the plains of northwestern New Mexico. When inhabitants finished building this complex in the late 1200s, the community consisted of great houses, tri-walled kivas, small residential pueblos, earthworks, roads, and great kivas.

The ancient builders of Aztec Ruins are generally called “ancestral Puebloan people.” The site got its name because early Spanish explorers traveling north from Mexico commonly used the word “Aztec” when naming sites they encountered.


Visitor Center & Museum

The Great Kiva here served as the religious core of the Great House.  These were probably public buildings used by people in the surrounding community. Common features include a large size, a central fire pit, four pillars, and floor vaults, possibly used as foot drums after planks of wood were laid across them.

This Great Kiva was excavated by Earl Morris in 1921 and reconstructed under his management in 1934. The purpose of fifteen surface rooms surrounding the central chamber is unknown.  Possibly they were used for ancestor spirits, individual clans or societies, spectators, or ceremonial preparations. Supporting the 95-ton roof was a challenging feat of engineering, both when originally built, and when reconstructed.


Inside the Great Kiva

The round room shown below was another kind of kiva or ceremonial chamber.  The roof in this kiva was domed with timbers resting one upon another, a common style for kiva roofs. Descendants of ancestral Puebloans describe this construction as representing a basket, associated with the sky above. People entered the kiva through a hatchway in the roof.



Most prominent are the great houses — well-planned public buildings of many connected rooms surrounding a central plaza.  By 1105, people began harvesting wood from distant sources to build the largest structure, now known as West Ruin.  The West Ruin resembled the great houses built at Chaco and elsewhere in the Southwest.  The three-story building had over 500 rooms and many kivas, including the Great Kiva in the plaza.


Buildings around the plaza

The thick tapering walls had a core of roughly shaped stones and mud mortar sandwiched between sandstone masonry exteriors.




Aztec Ruins


The Great Kiva and another kiva




me at Aztec Ruins


Buildings around the plaza







The path leads through a series of interior rooms. The rooms along the back wall were often used for storage as well as a place for burials.  Mats, hides, stone slabs, or feather blankets were used to close off openings between rooms and the outdoors.

In this passageway, the ceilings are still intact after 900 years.  The large beams (vigas) are made of widely spaced spruce, Douglas fir, or Ponderosa pine. The overlying smaller beams (latillas) are made of aspen or pine. Rather than using local timber, the builders chose to bring in high-quality roof beams from higher elevations 20 miles north.  A layer of thin juniper splints was placed on top of the latillas.  Finally, a heavy layer of tamped mud topped this layer, forming the floor of the story above.

This intact roof enabled precise dating of these ruins because of tree-ring dating, or dendrochronology.


inside nooks


interior nooks




North Wall


Aztec West


Aztec West


Aztec West


Hubbard Tri-Wall site

In the early years, the settlement was influenced strongly by Chacoan culture, and it prospered as a regional administrative, trade and ceremonial center.  Later, despite periodic droughts and the decline of the Chacoan social and economic system, Aztec’s regional prominence persisted as construction and remodeling continued in the Chacoan style.

By the late 1200s, people had moved from Aztec and the Four Corners region.  No one knows why they left, but archeologists guess perhaps it was drought, or social, political or religious issues.  Possibly, it was simply the allure of distant places. They moved south to the less arid country near the Rio Grande and west into Arizona, where their descendants live today.



Many American Indians maintain deep spiritual ties with this ancestral place through oral tradition, prayer and ceremony.

Of course, I got my National Parks sticker and cancellation stamp.

Information above came from various brochures created by the National Park Service.

*Friday, May 18, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20 photos and to write less than 500-800 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, February 6 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, February 7, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!