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!
Our base of operations (capers) was Hidden Valley Resort ($16.50 with Coast to Coast) in Tijeras, New Mexico. It was a wonderful place complete with swimming pool. Issue was that there was late snow in the area. We didn’t have time for the amenities anyway because there was too much to see in the surrounding area. The place is beautiful.
We went to Taos the first day and it wasn’t quite a bust because we saw interesting things. We wanted to go to the pueblo but due to unforeseen circumstances they were closed to visitors. Good thing was the Turquoise Trail, which I loved for the beautiful scenery along the Rio Grand and it went “right smack dab” through Madrid. What a place. It’s remote, artsy, eclectic, friendly and I’ve not seen any place like it. The movie Wild Hogs was filmed there and now I know why. Check it out, it’s where all the old hippies are. Truly!
The next day was Pueblo of Acoma (Sky City). It was a beautiful drive to the reservation and the Pueblo did not disappoint. The Pueblo is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is one of the longest occupied places in the United States. The Acoma tribe has occupied this mesa for over 2000 years. Currently 35 people still live there with no electricity or running water. There are 3 rock cisterns that collected water for the community.
You can’t visit without a guide but that is a good thing as it controls access and preserves the the place. Our guide’s ancestral home is there and she shared a lot of information. Acoma language is Keresan but most speak English as well. The elders also speak Spanish as they were forced to do so under Spanish occupation. We met several of the people living there and I bought a wedding vase made by Nancy Thompson, an elder. She graciously let me photograph her, she was a lovely and gracious Acoma woman.
The Acoma are descendants of the Ancient Puebloans and Mogollan cultures with the oldest buildings in Sky City being built around 1044. The Spanish tried to claim the area in 1539 but the Acoma were wary. Spanish officer Juan de Zaldivar was eventually killed by the tribe so on December 20, 1598, when Oñate learned of the death, he planned an attack of revenge on the tribe. The attack was encouraged by the friars of the area to teach other pueblos a lesson. The Spanish came to Acoma with 70 soldiers and the Acoma Massacre went on for three days. 800 Acoma people were killed and 500 were imprisoned. The Spanish ordered that all Acoma men over 25 years old have their right foot chopped off and they were forced into 20 years of slavery. Males aged 12–25 and females over 12 were taken away from their parents and forced into slavery for 20 years. Philip III of Spain later exiled Oñate from New Mexico for mismanagement, false reporting, and cruelty. European settlers? What can I say? And, they thought the Native Americans were the savages.
The tribe was then forced into Catholicism and if they were caught practicing their ceremonial heritage, they were executed. The Acoma learned to hide their Kivas (ceremonial spaces) inside homes and had a network of lookouts so they could still practice what they really believed. Who were the savages? Just a thought.
This is a great place to learn a little history. Go if you can.
After filling our brains with Acoma history we decided to take a day for the Petroglyphs. Ray woke up “under the weather” so I headed out on my own. The Rangers recommended Piedras Marcadas Canyon (Canyon of Marked Rocks) so with map in hand I drove over. The map and the ranger indicated that the trail was 1.5 miles round trip. It was more like 2.4 according to my fit bit. This is desert terrain with hills, rocks and wildlife. I was fortunate enough to have the place mostly to myself, which allowed me to meditate and really absorb what I was seeing. One recommendation is to take a lot of water and take your time so that you can see everything. I was there for about 3 hours. If you run from point a to b on the map you will miss the experience.
Paleo-Indians were in the area over 12,000 years ago. The petroglyphs span a period of 3,000 to 300 years old. After contact with the Spanish, petroglyphs showed men on horseback. It’s all quite interesting and I find viewing petroglyphs is a spiritual experience.
Next up, Pueblo Cultural Center. Great place to learn about the pueblo peoples. The museum is outstanding. I am a big fan of the storyteller figures. Each one tells a story.
Santa Fe is a beautiful arts community and has a lot to offer. We ate a marvelous lunch at Tia Sophia’s. Highly recommend the Chili Rellenos. Be prepared for the spice. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is a must see, we were blown away at her mastery of art and life. I managed to purchase a beautiful Navajo inlaid dragonfly pendant, which means a lot to me. Take some time and explore this great place.
We spent a day at Bandelier National Monument. What a cool place with cliff dwellings, ancient pueblos, petroglyphs and pictographs all in one location. It’s an easy hike, moderate climb and you must take a lot of water. This place is exceptional. While Paleo-Indians were in the area as long as 10,000 years ago, the ancient puebloans didn’t build permanent structures here until 1150 AD. The monument is located in Frijoles Canyon on the slopes of the Jemez Volcanic field and covers 50 square miles. I was reminded to define petroglyphs (etchings and pickings on stone) and Pictographs (drawings with dyes), Bandelier has both.
I hope you have enjoyed these escapades! Stay tuned for Aztec New Mexico!