Aztec, NM – Smaller towns can be better

When planning our RV travel routes, we often choose smaller towns near the sites we want to see.  In this case, planning to visit the Aztec Ruins National Monument, we chose Aztec, New Mexico, population 6,000, but only 10 miles from larger Farmington, New Mexico.  We were able to find no-frills Ruins Road RV Park for $20 a night.  The price was so cheap, we didn’t mind at all that there wasn’t a discount for Good Sam or for staying a week.  The sites were large, trees plentiful, and level sites, but absolutely no amenities.  No laundry, restrooms or showers, pool, or anything else, but we don’t usually use those things anyway, so it didn’t matter.  The park was also quiet, which is sometimes hard to come by.

As is our usual practice, the first day we scouted out Aztec, to see what this smaller town had to offer. We like to know where the grocery store is, where to get propane, and check out what restaurants or attractions might be available.  Having done the requisite orientation tour, we headed to Aztec Ruins National Monument.

I had never even heard of Aztec Ruins, but the ruins were mentioned in the House of Rain book we mentioned in the last post.  In the quest to answer the question “What happened to the Anasazi?”,  the Aztec settlement was more advanced than civilizations at Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and sites farther north.  Building multi-room structures using masonry techniques learned from the Chaco Canyon inhabitants, one can see actual blocks of rock and mortar, with some design elements added.  As the Ancient Puebloans moved south, whether to escape drought conditions or to join larger communities (just as many people migrate to our cities today), their construction methods became more advanced, meant to last longer and to be more permanent.

Multiple rooms and levels in Aztec Ruins

Multiple rooms and levels in Aztec Ruins.  Note the corner opening on the top layer of the building.  The info provided said that these corner openings were very difficult to create and, if not done properly, could weaken the structure.  Apparently this one worked since the structure is over 900 years old.

As architecture and construction methods became more advanced, the walls were built with a rubble interior and faced with a veneer of more decorative rock.

As architecture and construction methods became more advanced, the walls were built with a rubble interior and faced with a veneer of more decorative rock. Although it doesn’t show well here, the stripes are made of a green rock and was really very attractive.

It happened to be International Archaeology Day at Chaco Canyon when we were there.  Out front of the visitors’ center, there were two park service archaeologists doing a demonstration and showing some artifacts from the area.  I had been reading and hearing about turkey feather blankets, not being able to conjure an image in my mind.  They had a small blanket there to show.  It was so amazingly soft and light.  I can see why the puebloans wanted to be sure they domesticated turkeys to have enough around for blankets, foods, tools, etc.

The artifacts the archaeologist was sharing were interesting, including yucca woven sandals, handmade arrows, black-on-white pottery, a very small metate with a mano for grinding, but the best thing was the turkey blanket. I had never seen one before and was amazed by how light it was, and soft.

The artifacts the archaeologist was sharing were interesting, including yucca woven sandals, handmade arrows, black-on-white pottery, a very small metate with a mano for grinding, but the best thing was the turkey blanket. I had never seen one before and was amazed by how light it was, and soft.

One of the things we try to do in each community we visit, is to go to local museum to learn more about the place.  Museums in smaller towns are particularly interesting, seeing what they think is valuable about their town and what kinds of artifacts they are able to scrounge up.  The Aztec Museum was no exception.  The museum is pretty basic and has some of the typical old stuff you would find in most small museum.  What was truly exceptional was what was out back, behind the museum.  The town has created an entire pioneer village of salvaged iconic buildings, like a school, bank, sheriff’s office, miner’s cabin, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office, and more, all set up as if along a street, and filled with the true collection of the museum.  Also, in a creative way of gaining support and volunteers, different families and groups have adopted each of these buildings to keep them clean, windows washed, dusted, and interpreted.  We spent waaaay more time in the village than we did in the actual museum.

This school building was transported to the museum when the new school was built for the town. There is even an old school bed.

This school building was transported to the museum when the new school was built for the town. There is even an old school bell outside for the kids to ring when they come to see the school.

miners-cabin-aztec-museum

This old one room miner’s cabin is about 12 X 12 feet. It once housed a family of four. Talk about a tiny house. Every function of daily life took place in this one room.

The quirkiest thing in the Aztec Museum was a huge rotating “sculpture” created by Valenty Zaharek as a life project.  In the very back of a storage building, mostly covered with dust, and seemingly forgotten, is a 3000 lb rotating scene of the southwest, with familiar old cowboy songs playing while it rotates.  It was GREAT!  For years this exhibit was shown around the country, but after years of travel, it was retired and donated to the Aztec Museum.  The carving has been lovingly refurbished by local enthusiasts who made repairs to the electrical and sound systems and cleaned up the entire creation.  Hopefully this exhibit will be moved front and center sometime in the future.pecos-west-carving-aztec-nm

With the music playing while the whole huge thing rotated, these cowboy singers were perfect.

With the music playing while the whole huge thing rotated, these cowboy singers were perfect.

The elephant in the room, in this part of the country, if you are interested in Ancient Puebloan culture, is Chaco Canyon and Chaco Culture National Historic Park.  Chaco is located at the very end of a very bad gravel and dirt road.  The park service is quick to point out that the roads within the park are paved, but those bad roads are all on private property.  We saw people driving motorhomes on this road and could only think about all the dishes banging around in the cupboards and all the things that must be shifting within the coach.  We would recommend camping outside the park and driving in without risking damage to your RV.  That said, don’t be afraid to go.  Just take it slow.  You have no choice.  We had to chuckle when we saw this sign.

This sign must have been placed on this road many years ago, because there is NO WAY you can go anything but slow. VERY SLOW!

This sign must have been placed on this road many years ago, because there is NO WAY you can go anything but slow. VERY SLOW!

Being only 10 miles from Farmington, NM, we went there several times during our week in Aztec.  The smaller community was great for relaxing and the quiet, but having a bigger town close by proved to be a good thing for us.  If you have been reading our Facebook posts or other posts on this blog, you know we have been having issues with our diesel truck.  It is a 1999 Ford F350.  “The Beast” has been terrific for pulling our travel trailers over the years and we knew that we would periodically have to do repairs as the truck got older.  We chose a diesel truck for the power and the longevity of diesel engines.   Last spring that we knew we had an oil leak we needed to address and wanted to wait until we got home to Steamboat and Steamboat Motors before fixing it.  To make a long story short, we spent a lot of money on repairs, only to find out when we left Steamboat,  the turbo problem that was supposedly fixed wasn’t. Black eye for Steamboat Motors.  A trip to Montrose Ford in south central Colorado fixed that problem and the truck ran great.  What we didn’t know, since the weather in Ridgway/Montrose was cool the whole time we were there, was the air conditioning wasn’t working either.  Steamboat Motors had checked it, added freon, and proclaimed that they had checked for leaks.  Maybe so, but they missed one. Two black eyes for Steamboat Motors.  As we drove south, it got warmer and warmer, and we tried to use the air conditioning, but it only blew hot air.  So, back to a Ford garage in Farmington.  Ziems Ford was able to fix our air conditioning and we are hoping this is the last repair we have to pay for for a long time.

Farmington is also the home to 3 Rivers Brewery in the historic downtown.  Cooper loves micro-breweries and we try to find one in each town we visit.  The brewery/restaurant is located in a historic building that used to be the local corner drugstore.  Decor pays homage to the former drug store, but also to lots of bits of history about the town and the surrounding area.  The food was really good and Cooper liked the beer. (I am not a beer drinker.)  As it turns out, the brewery is rated the #1 restaurant of 105 options in Farmington on Trip Advisor.  We didn’t know that when we chose it.

This is the inside of the 3 Rivers Brewery, with all the stuff to keep your eyes busy and to acquaint you with local history.

This is the inside of the 3 Rivers Brewery, with all the stuff to keep your eyes busy and to acquaint you with local history.

One last stop in Farmington was at the Farmington Museum.  Although we didn’t learn anything about the history of Farmington, the special exhibit they had going about preservation of Peregrine falcons and wolves was really terrific.

I am so glad we are spending a week in each of our stops.  From here we head to Gallop, NM, for another week.  There are lots of things to see in the area, but it might also be a great time for a little down time for reading, baskets, and relaxing rather than to be on the go all the time.  Guess we will see when we get there.

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