America's Best History Spotlight

On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

There are so many wonderful Indian culture heritage sites within the states of the southwest that sometimes the smaller sites, such as Aztec Ruins, gets less attention than it deserves. However, this collection of structures near the Animas River remains one of the most intact of such sites, and is a northwestern New Mexico treasure to visit. It was regarded so highly that its former owner, H.D. Abrams, became one of the most avid preservationists of the site, transferring it to the National Museum of American History, then National Park Service as a National Monument, which was proclaimed by President Warren G. Harding on January 24, 1923. Today the site, with some additions to its original acreage, is much like that of Abrams time. If you get the chance to visit while on or near the New Mexico Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, take it. Image above: Aztec Ruins National Monument, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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Info, What's There Now, History Nearby

Cabin at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Let's start with its name. While the ruins are attributed to the Aztec nation by early settlers, it's not accurate. The structures were part of the Pueblo Indian culture, not Aztec, likely more accurately attributed to the Anasazi. The structures are nearly one thousand years old. Their rediscovey, and reconstruction, occurred after Earl Halstead Morris, an archaeologist, came to the ruins in 1916, and spent years uncovering Aztec West, the Great Kiva, and part of Aztec East. When the National Park Service oversaw the reconstruction of the Great Kiva, Morris surpervised.

Approximately sixty-four thousand people visit Aztec Ruins each year to view the structures which represent the largest planned community of the Puebloan people in the Animas River Valley, participate in astronomy programs, and witness the culture from nearly one thousand years ago. The site, likely chosen due to the river providing a good water supply for farming, became a central trade, ceremonial, and administrative site for other smaller communities in the Chaco Canyon region. It was inhabited for, what many think, was three hundred years.

Image above: Historic view of the North Wing from the vantage point of the Great Kiva, South Wing, date unknown, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Another view of Aztec Ruins National Monument. Courtesy National Park Service.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Where Is It

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located at 725 Ruins Road Aztec, NM 87410 along the Animas River in northwest New Mexico, just below the border with Colorado in San Juan County. Technically, it's part of Chaco Culture National Park. It's fifteen miles east of Farmington, New Mexico, off Route 516. It's north of Albuquerque off Route 550, nearly one hundred and eighty miles.

What is There Now

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on three hundred and eighteen acres. There's a Visitor Center with exhibits, including artifacts nine hundred years old, 15 minute film on its history, "Aztec Ruins: Footprints of the Past," with park orientation and ranger guided activities. Structures include the West Wing, East Wing, Great Kiva, Hubbard Site, as well as Mound F, Mound A, and the Earl Morris Ruin. Some of the ruins are not open to the public.

When Open and How Much

Aztec Ruins National Monument is open year round, except major holidays, and is free to visit.

Fees subject to change.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

History Nearby

As noted above, the park is part of the Trails of the Ancients Scenic Byway, which includes heritage sites of the Ute, Navajo, Apache, and other Pueblo Indian tribes. This includes Chaco Culture National Historical Park, El Malpais National Monument, and El Morro National Monument, among others. You're also not too far away from sites such as Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona.

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