Must-See in New Mexico: Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico© 2009 New Mexico Tourism DepartmentDespite the name, it was the Pueblos who built a twelfth-century city on the edge of present-day Carson National Forest.

Ruins Rd., Aztec, Mew Mexico

Early explorers and scholars mistakenly believed these ruins had been built by the Aztecs in ancient times rather than by the ancestral Pueblo peoples that had actually inhabited the area. The centerpiece at Aztec Ruins is a 450-room structure built in the early 1100s, known today as West Ruin. In the central plaza of West Ruin lies the reconstructed great kiva, a circular semi-subterranean structure used for ceremonial purposes. In the surrounding fields are an elaborate complex of roads and buildings, including other kivas.

The first builders at the site emulated the building techniques and artistic traditions of the southern Chaco Canyon. Differences in masonry and architectural styles distinguish earlier constructions from later additions, which borrow from the northern Pueblo peoples of Mesa Verde.

An easy half-mile self-guiding trail leads through part of the ruins, allowing you to study the masonry and the interiors of the rooms. The ceilings here are original, and the green sandstone band running the length of the west wall is unique to this structure. The visitors center exhibits weaving, basketry, some fine pottery, and a 25-minute video with more background. The area was named a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Open daily year-round except holidays. Admission charged.

(505) 334-6174

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