About Aztec Ruins National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument, in New Mexico, USA, is actually the home of an impressive set of ancestral Puebloan ruins rather than anything built by the Aztecs. The name Aztec Ruins National Monument is actually a misnomer, deriving from a 19th century misconception about the origins of the site.
History of the Aztec Ruins National Monument
Built and occupied from around the 12th century, the Ancestral Pueblo people used the site for over 200 years. In its heyday, it contained several multi-story ‘great houses’ – including one which had 500 rooms – as well as plenty of smaller structures. There would also have been a “kiva” or ceremonial building, which has now been reconstructed.
Excavations in more recent periods have discovered a wealth of artefacts, providing a fascinating insight into the world in which these people lived: some walls even contain fingerprints from those who built them, 900 years ago.
The ruins were rediscovered in the 19th century by settlers who misattributed them to the Aztecs. The Aztec Ruins National Monument is part of the “Chaco Culture” UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Aztec Ruins National Monument today
Visitors to the Aztec Ruins National Monument can tour these fascinating ruins, with much of the structure of some rooms still intact and some of their original wood beams still visible. A short (1/2 mile) trail through the site is the best way to explore: it feels remarkably intimate. The reconstructed great kiva is particularly impressive: despite the fact that this site was last inhabited 700 years ago, something about it feels strangely tangible and close.
There’s also a visitor center with exhibits of excavated finds from the site and a film about the history of the Four Corners region. Allow an hour or two for your visit. The park is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) – hours vary by season so it’s worth double checking before you go.
Getting to the Aztec Ruins National Monument
The site is is northwest New Mexico, about a 3 hour drive from Albuquerque. Highway 550 and 64 are both close by: the ruins road is well signed from both. It’s possible to get here by bus from Farmington – take the Aztec Tiger Bug Route to the Safeway/W Express stop. From there, it’s about a 20 minute walk to reach the site.