Aztec Ruins
Administrative History
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On a tide of peace, prosperity, and renewed national vigor that characterized the mid-1950s, planners for the National Park Service implemented a bold effort to upgrade all aspects of the facilities at the 179 holdings it maintained at that time. That meant modernizing or constructing new buildings to accommodate increased public usage and to provide for necessary augmented staffing, to build or improve roads and trails for easier or greater accessibility, to push stabilization measures where needed, to bring written, oral, and visual interpretation in line with current research, and to expand each installation's offerings for greater visitor enjoyment. [1] Aztec Ruins National Monument was slated to receive the benefits of this 10-year program, known as MISSION 66 in recognition of the Service's upcoming 50th anniversary in 1966. It was none too soon. Both physical and presentation capabilities of the monument were inadequate and outmoded.

At the root of the problems faced at Aztec Ruins was the fact that the 1950s witnessed a remarkable popularity of the subject of archeology. Recent global wars perhaps stimulated interest in the world's cultural past. In the Four Corners, it was rather ironic that explorations to satisfy the twentieth century's dramatic energy needs focused unusual attention upon the human pageant played out there the previous millennium. A cobweb of jeep trails lay over sweeps of inhospitable terrain scarcely penetrated by Euro-Americans for the preceding 100 years. Along with the discoveries of coal, natural gas, oil, and uranium were those of the remains of scores of Anasazi sites. Nomadic Native Americans, who wandered through the area since the 1400s, superstitiously generally avoided these homes of the ancient people. Not being restrained by the same fears, Caucasian Americans pothunted as never before. This was redeemed somewhat by their new awareness of the civilization that once evolved in, and then departed from, this unforgiving wilderness. In an oblique way, this was reflected in the filming within the precincts of Aztec Ruins of part of the James Cagney movie Run for Cover. [2]

Boom conditions in the San Juan Basin resulting from energy developments brought changes affecting Aztec Ruins. One was a rapid tripling of local population. Another was a system of paved highways ending the regions' isolation (see Figure 6.1). Tourists by the thousands took to their automobiles to find that, although Aztec Ruins was not in the spectacular setting of Mesa Verde or Chaco Canyon, it could be enjoyed during a brief side trip while en route to somewhere else. School field trips to easily reached places of interest became a standard part of the curriculum. All these factors coming together -- interest, numbers of adults and children, and accessibility -- accounted for an annual visitation at the monument that burgeoned to almost 40,000 by 1956 and was expected to increase further as the local natural gas and oil activities expanded. [3]

The ways in which the National Park Service made the monument available to visitors involved a number of coordinated facets to the operation. The most urgent of these were targets for improvement under the MISSION 66 umbrella.

National Park Service monument and park headquarters transformed into visitor centers in accord with the underlying mission of MISSION 66 to emphasize users rather than managers. The visitor center at Aztec Ruins National Monument was designed to serve two interrelated spheres of the monument's purpose.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006