The New Mexico Section of the Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide covers the famous Ancestral Puebloan - Anasazi - sites at Chaco Culture National Historic Park (Chaco Canyon) and Aztec Ruins National Monument. Ancient and contemporary culture come together at Acoma Pueblo and its Sky City. Also covered are Inscription Rock at El Morro National Monument, and, for recreationalists, Navajo Lake State Park with its notable trout fishing on the San Juan River below the dam.
This guide offers descriptions of many points of interest, links to many references, travel itineraries, and suggested visit times.
New Mexico |
Travel Itineraries - Trip Planners |
Guide to Northwest New Mexico Points of Interest
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Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico
Chaco Culture National Historical Park preserves one of America's most significant cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was the major center of Ancestral Puebloan - Anasazi culture from approximately 850-1250 AD. The culmination of this culture occurred here around 1100 AD with the completion of several enormous pueblos, or great houses, the most well-known being Pueblo Bonito, built on three acres and containing about 800 rooms. At that time, the canyon was occupied by thousands of individuals practicing an agricultural way of life.
Today, there are about 4,000 known archaeological sites in Chaco Canyon. Six major sites are accessible by self-guided tour along the park road. These include five great houses and the huge, stand-alone great kiva, Casa Rinconada (photo, right). Brochures are available at the visitor center and the site. Several hiking trails lead to remote Chacaon sites, ancient roads, petroglyphs, stairways, and spectacular overlooks. Ranger-led tours are available from May to October. The remote location (directions below) adds to the quality of the experience but there are no services except for a campground. Visit time: two days, one night in the campground.
Aztec Ruins National Monument, Salmon Ruins
This massive pueblo of about 500 rooms was a major outlier ("suburb") of Chaco Canyon. The ancient road to Chaco is still discernible. As at Chaco Canyon evidence of two occupations is visible (different building techniques). After the Chacoan people abandoned the area in the 12th century, the pueblo was reoccupied by Mesa Verde people migrating southward during the 13th century. The west wing of the pueblo has been fully restored, and the walk-through gives you a feel for pueblo life. Also, the great kiva (photo, right) has been fully restored, both inside and outside and including its top, and offers a unique experience. This is the only place where a kiva has been so restored. The environment is lush and riparian, adjacent to the perennial Animas River. The site is located off of US-550 near Aztec, New Mexico. Visit time: a couple of hours. Very nice picnic area.
The Salmon Ruins Historic Site is about 10 miles from Aztec. It includes the remnants of another Chacoan great house dating from the 11th century, another outlier of Chaco Canyon. The site also includes an original 19th century homestead and a museum and visitor center. The museum sponsors unique "Journey Into the Past Tours", guided tours of the region's historic sites. Located on US-64, west of Bloomfield. Visit time: an hour or more.
El Morro National Monument
El Morro Mesa has been a landmark in the monotonous high desert of New Mexico for centuries. The spring-fed oasis at its base has made it a favorite camping spot for Ancestral Pueblo and Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadors, the U.S. Army, American pioneers, and modern travelers. The soft, flat rock by the spring, now known as Inscription Rock, has been a favorite message board for all. The first translatable message was etched by a Spanish conquistador: "Passed by here, the Adelantado Don Juan de Onate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South, the 16th day of April, 1605." The photo, right, shows a message with a clear date of 1709.
El Morro National Monument also features the remains of a 13th century pueblo on top of the mesa. The village, known as Atsinna, was occupied by Anasazi ancestors of the Zuni people for only a few decades. They had lived in the area for centuries, and the modern Zuni people live in the same area.
This remote, off-the-beaten-path place is about 50 miles from Gallup, New Mexico, 31 miles south on NM-602, then about 20 miles east on NM-53 (which eventually links up with I-40 near Grants). Visit time: an hour or two, longer if you hike to the ruins at the top of the mesa. Nice campground in a quiet area. Hot in the summer.
In the remote high desert of New Mexico, Acoma Pueblo sits 400 feet above the desert floor on an isolated mesa as it has done for nearly nine centuries. Aptly nicknamed the "Sky City", Acoma is considered by its residents to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in America. This can never be proven for certain but its long history is undisputed.
The photo, right, shows a segment of Acoma Pueblo. Those who are familiar with the ancient ruins of the region's Anasazi people, which date back over 700 years, will immediately see the similarity. The chief visual differences are the modern doors and windows.
The pueblo is accessible by guided tour only. Tours are arranged at the Sky City Cultural Center at the foot of the mesa. The Acomans are noted for their outstanding pottery decorated in white, black, and orange, and local artists offer their wares for sale outside of the museum. The Sky City is located sixty miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, off of Interstate-40. Use exit 108, and drive twelve miles south to the museum. The tribe also operates Acoma Route 66 Interpretive Center and Sky City Casino, both adjacent to the interstate. Visit time: a few hours.
Navajo Lake State Park
Navajo Lake State Park offers quality outdoor recreation in the Four Corners area. At an elevation of 6,100 feet, the park offers moderate summer temperatures. Recreation resources include a large fishing lake, plentiful full-hookup camping, a full service marina, hiking trails, and visitor center. The San Juan River area below the dam is world renowned for excellent trout fishing and includes wheelchair-accessible fishing facilities on the river. Take US-64 east from Bloomfield, then NM-511. Main entrance is off of NM-511. Visit time: one or more days.
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