We rolled in to Ruins Road RV Park ($33/night cash only) in Aztec New Mexico around noon on March 31st. After quickly setting up we headed out to our next caper. Aztec Ruins National Monument on New Mexico’s Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway.
The Aztec Ruins were found near the Animas River and were erroneously named Aztec by 19th century settlers as they believed they had found Aztec ruins. The ruins are actually ancestral homes of the modern Puebloan Peoples. The Ancestral Puebloans occupied the area from the 11th to the 13th centuries but the area was also used by Paleo-Indians as long as 10,000 years ago.
The Ancients started building the 500 room complex with a 41 foot Kiva and dozens of smaller Kivas around 1100 AD. The master plan was followed in additions made over the 150 year occupation of the pueblo. The architecture of the buildings link the inhabitants directly to the Chaco Canyon culture. These ruins are fascinating, right down to the inset of green stones representing water and the exterior walls which aligned with the sunrise in the spring and fall equinoxes.
These Ancestral Puebloans were master astronomers, masons, and mathematicians, yet, considered savages by European settlers. I find this an intriguing time in history.
April 1st we headed over to the Salmon Ruins and Heritage Park. This is a state run park with a wonderful Ancestral Puebloan site, George Salmon Homestead, and the state of the art San Juan Archaeological Research Center.
The Ancestral site contained about 200 rooms on a large plaza with a tower Kiva, several smaller Kivas, and a Summer Solstice and Lunar Standstill Observatory. This site was occupied by around 300 people, primarily in 1088 AD and secondarily after the abandonment of the Chaco Canyon Settlements. Many artifacts were discovered in the ruins and are housed in the adjacent San Juan Archaeological Research Center. The artifacts are outstanding.
You may be wondering how the George Salmon Homestead figures in to this scenario. He staked out a homestead in 1890 and was aware of the ruins on the property. Over several decades he and his descendants protected the the ruins from looting. This preserved the area for decades and is how we have a more complete history of the area. Salmon and his wife raised 11 children in their two room house.
The stop over to see these sites was well worth it. If you get to the area, I recommend taking a tour and learning some amazing history.
Next up: Blanding, Utah…. Natural beauty. Thank you Universe!
Mesa Verde RV Resort ($34.19/night with Good Sam’s) was our location for day trips out to see the pithouses and pueblos of Mesa Verde (Green Table), Hovenweep (Deserted Valley), and Canyon of the Ancients. The Four Corners National Monument on the Navajo Nation Reservation is where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. We stopped there on the way to Mesa Verde. Four Corners has permanent stalls where local Native American Artisans sell their work. Worth a stop!
When we arrived in Mesa Verde there had been a late snow and it snowed in the higher elevations during our visit. At 7,500 feet above sea level there was about two feet of snow. Thank goodness the roads were kept clear and we weren’t slowed down too much for our capers.
We headed south to Hovenweep National Monument for our first adventure. The roads to get there were scenic and passed through ranches and open range (no fencing). We were delayed a tad when a herd of cattle claimed the road. We patiently waited for them to move on before we could drive through. There were dozens of calves and cows just hanging out in the road, in no hurry to move.
There was no snow at Hovenweep but it was windy and cold. The trails to get to the dwellings were well laid out and not too strenuous. Hovenweep has fine examples of ancestral Puebloan masonry. The visitors center has trail maps and water available and runs a great historical film that is worth the few minutes to view. Hovenweep is now one of my favorite places. Go with the right mindset and you can have a spiritual experience. Modern descendants of these groups believe that their ancestors still live there and it’s a sacred place. Treat it accordingly.
Hunter-gatherers (Paleo-Indians) inhabited the Cajon Mesa on the Great Sage Plain from 8,000-6,000 BC until 200 AD. They were followed by the Basketmaker (50 AD to 750 AD)and Pueblo Era Natives (750 AD to 1350 AD). Experts believe that Hovenweep was deserted due to increased populations and a 23 year regional drought. Currently badgers, large cats and bears have taken over some of the caves at Hovenweep.
The following homes to the ancients are found in Little Ruin Canyon and consists of the following: Stronghold House, Twin Towers, Rim Rock House, Eroded Boulder House, Tower Point and Hovenweep Castle. The Park Service employs Hopi masons to make repairs. These masons are torn about making repairs because there belief is that everything returns to the earth.
Up next: Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. We only got to Lowry Pueblo due to the weather and it was quite the trip down muddy and snowy dirt roads. The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is 176,600 acres of mostly wilderness. It has 6,355 recorded sites of ancestral Puebloan culture in the Chaco Canyon area. Lowry Pueblo is one of three ruins open to the public. Please visit the visitors center prior to visiting the pueblos. They have great exhibits and dioramas. One of my favorite exhibits allows you to listen to phrases in the different Native American languages. Exquisite.
The Lowry Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark, consisting of 8 kivas, one of which is the largest kiva I have ever seen. The pueblo has 40 rooms and some were three stories high. Based upon the size of the largest kiva, the Lowry Pueblo may have been a regional center for religious ceremonies and gatherings.
I hope you are enjoying the adventure. Stay tuned for Part II Mesa Verde!
Our new base of operations was Verde River RV ($34.20/day) in Camp Verde, Arizona. It was central to all the capers we had planned for this area. We had to make some alterations to our plans but all in all this was a great few days of exploring history.
We headed up to Jerome early morning of the 13th. Jerome was built in the Black Hills on steep slopes at 5000+ feet above sea level. The population was 10,000 during it’s copper mining days in the 1920s. After the mine played out the population dwindled down to 444. In 1917, when mine workers tried to unionize, the workers were removed at gunpoint and loaded in to cattle cars and railroaded to other areas. It brought a lot of scrutiny to the small town.
Prior to settlement by the Europeans, the area was inhabited by the Hohokam Indians from 700-1125 BCE. The mining brought in a lot of brothels and women were subject to being murdered and their murders never solved.
The town is currently full of art galleries, craft stores, wineries, coffee houses, and restaurants and tourism sustains the community. There is a wonderful history museum on Main Street. Jerome is a nice, friendly kind of place and we had a delicious cup of hot cocoa on a cold, windy day on Main Street.
We spent the next day at Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well National Monuments. These are two are separate sites just a few miles from each other. European settlers who discovered the ruins in 1860 mistakenly thought that they had found Aztec ruins, thus, the name.
The pueblos were built by the Sinagua (Without Water), pre-Columbians, who are related to the Hohokam and other indigenous tribes. The pueblos were built between 1100 and 1425 AD. Main structures were five stories tall and had twenty rooms. Don’t let the dates mislead you about the inhabitants of the region. Prior to building the dwellings, many indigenous people used the caves from about 10,000 years ago. Montezuma Castle is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America and is built in the cliffs above Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River.
This place is a spectacular and a very spiritual site. Native Americans consider it sacred and request that you honor the site with reverence when you visit. We were fortunate that, at this time of year, it wasn’t crowded. One school group from a local private prep school was visiting while we were there. I will not disclose the name of the school, but we tried to avoid them because they were the epitome of the “privileged white kids.” Before the day was out I did email the school to voice my concerns, but, alas, they haven’t chosen to respond. Sad, but we didn’t let them take away from our experience as a whole.
While the prep school kids were having lunch, we headed over to Montezuma’s Well (Yavapai). The Well is formed in limestone by an underground spring, which is somewhat like a sinkhole. The spring supplies 1.5 million gallons of water daily. There are many prehistoric dwellings (700-1425 CE) in the rock rim surrounding the well. The Sinagua were talented farmers and built aqueducts below the Well, along the Verde River. Some of those aqueducts have survived and you can follow them along the river.
The Castle and the Well would make a great addition to anyone’s bucket list. I’m certainly glad we went and saw the amazing work and learned the true history of an amazing people. Go, you’ll be glad you did!
On the way to the well, we stopped by a prehistoric Sinagua Pit House nearby. It dates to 1050 CE. It was a great specimen of pre-pueblo living.
Our next caper was visiting Tuzigoot National Monument. I like learning about our country’s history and I like saying Tuzigoot! Tuzigoot is Apache for “crooked waters.” This is appropriate as Tuzigoot is on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge above the Verde River. The Verde River Valley has a rich assortment of Native American ruins all through the valley, an archaeologists dream.
The Tuzigoot pueblo was also built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400. It was three stories tall and has about 97 rooms and was home to about 250 people. Soon after construction stopped in 1400, Tuzigoot was abandoned like other pueblos. The reason for abandonment is still being discussed by experts and there is no definitive answer.
I hope you are enjoying following along on our trip. I am having the time of my life and learning more about our important history. Hope to catch you next time when I share the Grand Canyon excursion. Until next time!