After leaving Moab we meandered down to Aztec New Mexico. Our goal was the Aztec Ruins National Monument. There are many of these pueblo ruins in this part of the country but most of them were closed for the winter. This particular site was open. There is also a modest RV campground a short walk from the monument. This allowed us to pull in and then leave our vehicle hitched and walk to the monument.
The monument itself was nicely laid out. There was a video explaining both the white, scientific and archeological background and the beliefs of the indigenous people about the ruins. I have a friend who tries to explain how white and Native American thinking differs and I was reminded of him. To us, these are abandoned ruins. To the indigenous peoples, these are living homes of their ancestors. There were some fascinating posters explaining all the different tribes in the region. The government maintains the ruins and we saw one fellow carefully restoring crumbling mortar and replacing it with a synthetic water resistant mortar that looks authentic but will protect the ruins. At one point during my training in human genetics I was exposed to many different tribes of North American indigenous peoples and the distinctive genetic markers of each one. So I am guessing this fellow is Navajo by his looks but it felt rude to ask and besides he was busy. He did give us permission to take his picture.
The pueblo people responsible for this structure are not Aztecs. That was a misnomer from the pioneer days. The structure was built in a short period of time, perhaps 40 years total and then abandoned after 200 years of occupancy for unknown reasons. The ancestors moved along. The ruins were first excavated and then restored in the 20 and 30s.
There was a central ceremonial chamber used to religious and community meetings that had been fully restored from the information gathered at other sites. We were asked to be quiet and respectful in the place as we explored. The chamber is still used today by indigenous people for religion ceremonies tied to the seasons. We had the place to ourselves so we were able to explore freely. The structure was really fascinating, a double walled outer ring, a lower inner ring below ground with a fire pit and seating around the outside. Two red squares supposedly had logs over them and were used to make a hollow sounding noise when danced on.
I could see how these pueblos would work in the hot climate. Every room was cool and clean. There were many chambers and holes and doorways into rooms, some in excellent shape and some with only crumbling walls. Original wood ceilings were still in place in some rooms.
We left feeling admiration for the ingenuity of the pueblo people, who were apparently not as tall as Dick, but we were puzzled about why they had moved on. No one really knows and only these ruins remain.