Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument preserves structures and artifacts of Ancestral Pueblo people from the 1100’s through 1200’s. People associated with Chaco Canyon to the south built and used the structures, then people related to the Mesa Verde region to the north used the site in the 1200’s. The monument was established in 1923 and designated a World Heritage Site in 1987.

History & Culture

Early settlers mistakenly thought that people from the Aztec Empire in Mexico created these striking buildings. They named the site “Aztec,” a misnomer that persisted even after it became clear that the builders were the ancestors of many Southwestern tribes. The people who built at Aztec and other places throughout the Southwest were called “Anasazi” for many years. Archeologists had adopted a word from the Navajo language, that they understood to mean “old people,” and then popularized its use. Most Pueblo people today prefer that we use the term “ancestral Pueblo” to refer to their ancestors. Aztec Ruins, built and used over a 200-year period, is the largest ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River valley. Concentrated on and below a terrace overlooking the Animas River, the people at Aztec built several multi-story buildings called “great houses” and many smaller structures. Associated with each great house was a “great kiva” a large circular chamber used for ceremonies. Nearby are three unusual “tri-wall” structures above ground kivas encircled by three concentric walls. In addition, they modified the landscape with dozens of linear swales called “roads,” earthen berms and platforms.

An interesting 700 yard trail leads visitors through the West Ruin, an excavated great house that had at least 400 interconnected rooms built around an open plaza. Its massive sandstone walls tower over 30 feet. Many rooms contain the original pine, spruce and aspen beams hauled from distant mountains. Archeologists excavated and reconstructed the Great Kiva in the West Ruin plaza and it now evokes a sense of the original sacred space.

The construction at Aztec shows a strong influence from Chaco Canyon, the site of a major ancestral Pueblo community to the south. Aztec may have been an outlying community of Chaco, a sort of ancillary place connected to the center to distribute food and goods to the surrounding population. Or it mayhave been a center in its own right as Chaco’s influence waned after 1100.

Excavation of the West Ruin in the early 1900’s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide glimpses into the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people. A remarkable variety of food remains, stone and wood tools, cotton and feather clothing, fiber sandals and mats, pottery and jewelry made of turquoise, obsidian and shell reveal much about their use of local resources and trade with others.

Around 1300, the ancestral Pueblo people left the region, migrating southeast to join existing communities along the Rio Grande, south to the Zuni area, or west to join the Hopi villages in Arizona.

Aztec Ruins National Monument connects people of the past with people and traditions of today. Many Southwestern American Indians today maintain deep spiritual ties with this ancestral site through oral tradition, prayer and ceremony. The site offers visitors opportunities to learn about these remarkable people and their descendants and to forge connections with the monument’s timeless landscape and stories.


A self guided interpretive trail about 1/2 mile long winds through the West Ruins, a pueblo of 450 interconnected rooms built of stone and mud. Visitors walk through rooms with original roofs and a reconstructed Great Kiva a partially underground structure once used for community wide activities. It is an easy trail, but there are some stairs and low doorways. Guide booklets are available. Rangers occasionally give talks during summer months. A 25 minute orientation video program is shown throughout the day in the visitor center. Children’s junior ranger program is also available.

Getting There

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on Ruins Road about 3/4 mile north of U. S. Highway 550, just outside the town of Aztec, New Mexico.

Traveler Facts

Contact Information
Aztec Ruins National Monument
84 County Road 2900
Aztec, NM 87410
Phone: 505-334-6174
Fax: 505-334-6372

Operating Hours & Seasons
Daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; rest of the year, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed January 1, Thanksgiving Day, December 25.

This area has relatively mild winters but at night temperatures can drop below 0 degrees F. There is a chance of occasional snow. Summer temperatures are warm with daytime highs in the upper 80’s and low 90’s and cool nights. Expect afternoon thunderstorms during the summer.

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