Ancient Attractions- Aztec Ruins National Monument
Is the wonder that visitors feel when they visit the Aztec Ruins National Monument by design? Why did the ancestral Pueblo people build so big at Aztec Ruins? The answers are elusive- and intriguing.
The West Ruin at Aztec once contained about 400 rooms. Portions stood three stories tall. The back wall stretches 360 feet - longer than a football field. A circular ceremonial structure known as the Great Kiva, 51 feet in diameter, dominates the plaza. Reconstructed in the 1930's the Great Kiva still inspires awe in modern visitors. Did the early builders intend this?
Using contemporary Pueblo people as the reference, early archeologists theorize that the upper floors of West Ruin served as homes. They imagined that the interior rooms - dark and deep within the defensive walls - provided storage for agricultural surplus sand other goods. Today, however, many read more into Aztec’s past.
Laborers had to carry sandstone blocks from quarries several miles away. They hauled ponderosa pines, Douglas-fir, and spruce logs from mountains tens of miles away. Archeologists estimate that great kiva required 30 people, working 10 hours a day, about 100 days to build - a lot of work! Tree ring dates from roof beams indicate that most of the work occurred between AD 1110 and 1130. Construction of such a large ediface, over so short a time, suggested that the builders had a master plan and a highly organized labor system.
Within a mile of West Ruin are means of three more "great houses" and perhaps 15 great kivas. What does this dense concertation of massive architecture mean? Was Aztec the regional center of religious, administrative, and cultural activity? Did an elite group of overseers govern it? Does the monumental architecture of West ruin inspire awe, admiration, and respect by design? Many think so, but we may never know for sure.
Aztec Ruins National Monument is open 8am - 6pm every Memorial Day to Labor Day; 8am to 5pm the rest of the year. A half mile self-guided tour trail winds through West Ruin. Museum and video available. Park rangers present interpretation programs during summer. Entrance fee: $5 (good of 7 days). Under 16: free. National Park passes honored: Annual, Golden, Military, Senior, Access, and Volunteer. More info: 505-334-6174; www.nps.gov/azru.