Aztec Ruins
Administrative History
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Steadily during the 1960s, the modern world around the Aztec Ruins crowded in upon that of the Anasazi. The aboriginal landscape had vanished with Euro-American settlement, but 80 years later even the cultivated rural setting was giving way to urbanization. The Aztec city manager apparently was more foresighted than some of his associates in recognizing that the town's image, as well as its economic well-being, had come to revolve in part around the tatters of another time fortuitously at its limits. He suggested retaining an open buffer, or green zone, adjacent to the monument. Nevertheless, expansion fueled by energy exploitation was the goal of the day. On December 2, 1964, the Aztec City Zoning Board voted down his proposal. [1]

Progress, it seemed, meant houses and businesses. What had been verdant orchard and pasture land to the south and southwest of the monument filled with nondescript house trailers and a subdivision of small look-alike homes. Later, authorities approved additional open pasture land due south of the residential and maintenance area of the monument for residential development. [2] With increased tourism from construction of the Navajo Dam and recreation area on the San Juan River to the east of Aztec, a second curio store was opened in 1964 by W.P. Shryock. It was across from the monument entrance on a parcel of land that had been zoned commercial. [3] A third similar store followed a few years later.

Ruins Road from New Mexico Highway 550 to the monument, which had been a sore point for Service managers for years, was narrow and traversed the new residential district. A school crossing was at one of its intersections. Since it was the sole automobile access to farms and gas explorations on the west side of the Animas River for a distance of some 12 miles, day and night it carried heavy truck traffic, which had to negotiate two right angle turns at the southwest and southeast corners of the monument. On a number of occasions, wide vehicles scraped the monument parking lot wall or dented guard rails. In 1971, a 20-year special-use permit was given to San Juan County for realignment of the road across 0.15 acres of the southeast corner of the preserve. The dangerous turn was not eliminated. [4]

The approach to Aztec Ruins no longer was aesthetically appropriate to the monument's message. Because of congestion, fumes, noise, traffic, and other quality-reducing factors of twentieth-century life, it could not within the space of one mile provide tempered transition from the past.

To set the ruins aside from further modern encroachment, the Master Plan of 1964 noted the desirability of immediately acquiring a portion of the Hubbard property on the north and west. Through government stewardship of this tract, it would be possible to control irrigation waters that threatened Aztec Ruins, to keep houses at a distance, to protect other prehistoric sites known to be scattered along the mesa crest, to make available an overlook from where one could gain an overall view of the alignments of the complex of Anasazi structures on the valley bottom, and to have space for a future campground should it be desired. [5] No action was taken on this recommendation.

Fortunately for the monument's protection, the Hubbard farm was not subdivided. As the energy boom subsided, the growth of the town of Aztec remained static. At the same time, irrigation water continued to be a problem at the site. Pothunting in adjacent ancient mounds was commonplace.

Within the monument itself, there were few physical changes after MISSION 66. One was the removal in 1984 of building 8, a residence that had been uninhabitable and vacant for five years. That action reduced to two the number of service or domestic buildings (see Figures 11.1 and 11.2). In 1987, lift station pumps were rebuilt, and the sewer line to building 9 was replaced. Improvements were made to facilitate access by handicapped persons. (see Figure 10.1).

sketch of structures
Figure 11.1. Structures within monument precinct, 1984.
(click on image for larger size)

West Ruin
Figure 11.2. Aerial view of West Ruin and Hubbard Mound.
Residential area at upper center; visitor center at right center (1984).

As for the preservation aspects of the site's management, in 1984, a badly needed climate-controlled storage room was added on the rear west side of the visitor center (see Figure 10.1). It was for specimens that had been in the basement for the previous half century and allowed a number of related improvements. [6] New steel shelving and cabinets, bright lighting, and a clean secure environment greatly upgraded curation. Objects were cleaned and rearranged according to categories. Small loose artifacts were relabeled and rebagged.

Except for the withdrawal of human remains out of respect for the wishes of Native American groups, the museum exhibits installed during the MISSION 66 expansion remained generally unchanged. The lobby was transformed into a small auditorium for meetings or lectures. Slides formerly shown there to give visitors a pictorial view of the Anasazi world were replaced during the 1970s by films and in the 1980s by video cassettes projected on a large television screen. Preconditioned to a televised mode of information transferal and as a substitution for face-to-face contact with monument interpretive personnel, visitors seemed to find the canned visual aspects of visitation almost as rewarding as on-site inspection.

The pace of activity by the monument staff was geared to routine service to the rising number of visitors and their vehicles. For a time, visitation leveled off to an average of 63,000 a year. Because of the month-long closing of the road into Mesa Verde National Park in 1972, it increased to nearly 80,000. Far fewer visitors came during the ensuing energy crisis of the early 1970s. In the next decade, another spurt in visitation saw almost 80,000 persons registering at the monument in 1988 (see Appendix K). The widespread use of large recreational vehicles or tour buses overcrowded the confined parking area, which was designed for 34 private cars and four recreational vehicles. [7] The grove of trees planted by the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps became a popular picnic spot on hot summer days.

During the long administration of Clarence N. Gorman (February 17, 1974-June 8, 1986), a new emphasis was placed on site interpretation and public relations. Throughout summer months, periodic talks by staff and volunteers were held in the Great Kiva and in the lobby. Occasional craft demonstrations and sales attracted attention from local people as well as travelers. Being a Navajo Indian from a prominent tribal family, Gorman was an important liaison between the National Park Service and the Native Americans living in the San Juan Basin. Through various cooperative programs with the Navajo Nation and the National Indian Youth Council, summer employment was offered in the monument to Navajo youths.

Gorman's successor, Charles B. (Barry) Cooper, has continued an active public relations program through participation in a number of local civic groups. A Christmas season luminaria display sponsored by the Aztec Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club, and the Chamber of Commerce has brought several thousand viewers to the Anasazi ruins in their midst.

From August 12, 1967, to January 9, 1971, Aztec Ruins National Monument was under the general administration of Mesa Verde National Park. When an administrative realignment put Mesa Verde National Park in the Rocky Mountain Region, oversight of Aztec Ruins was assigned to the Navajo Lands Group, until that office closed on October 1, 1982. [8] Currently, administration is directly through the Southwest Region office.

By the 1980s, the permanent professional-level personnel roster included a superintendent, park ranger, two park technicians, and an administrative clerk. Two seasonal helpers were hired during peak visitation months (May through September) to meet visitors and guide them through the ruins several times a day on a fixed schedule. Most visitors continued to use the self-guiding system. [9]

Entrance fees were raised to 50¢ in 1964 in order to contribute to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Two decades later prevailing higher costs of living and political considerations caused the fees to go to $1.00 for persons under 62 years of age. The Revenue and Expenditure Control Act of 1968 restricted employee hiring so that for a short time the monument closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and holidays. [10] Presently, it is closed on Christmas and New Years Day.

Recognition of the value of Aztec Ruins to the heritage of the nation came in 1966, when the monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. [11] Even more prestigious was the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization designation on December 8, 1987, of Chaco Culture National Historic Park as a World Heritage Center, which included Aztec Ruins as a star in the Chaco outlier constellation. [12]

That primary Chacoan affiliation, overlaid by a Mesa Verdian intrusion prior to abandonment, was reaffirmed as a result of long-term parallel research programs during the 1970s, one centered at Chaco Canyon and the other at the Chacoan San Juan outlier of Salmon Ruins. The latter site was found to be a sandstone core-and-veneer building of some 175 rooms stacked to two or three stories in places, which perhaps was erected a few years prior to the Aztec West Ruin and experienced the same general kind of usage. [13] A new generation of archeologists using technologically advanced research tools and a mass of accumulated comparative data from these relevant studies now is refining the linkage between Aztec and Chaco and concluding that the great houses, their associated tri-wall structures, and partially obliterated earthforms served as a northern planned aggregation of contemporary Animas communities scattered along the valley bottom and adjacent terraces. [14] A few recently dated tree-ring samples suggest either that timbers salvaged from eleventh-century structures may have been used in portions of the West Ruin or that construction commenced earlier and proceeded less rapidly than formerly believed. However, because an unknown number of growth rings on these specimens are missing, that evidence is inconclusive. [15] A great percentage of cutting dates for the West Ruin still cluster in the first three decades of the twelfth century, or early Pueblo III. As elsewhere north of the San Juan River, the great houses were occupied in late Pueblo III times by persons practicing architectural and ceramic modes characteristic of the Mesa Verde branch of the Anasazi. The latest dating of this phase at Aztec ranges from the last quarter of the twelfth century to the mid-thirteenth century. [16] The perplexing question of whether these two expressions were the result of sequential movements into the Animas region of core Chacoans followed by core Mesa Verdians or whether they merely represented a shift in cultural focus by a resident indigenous group remains unanswered. It is increasingly likely that continuing research will show that the unbroken continuum in the upper San Juan Basin as postulated by Erik Reed in the 1950s, but which was rejected by his colleagues largely because of Morris's viewpoint, did in fact characterize the local progression of prehistoric past events. [17]

Unquestionably, the most significant administrative development regarding Aztec Ruins National Monument was the passage on October 28, 1988, of Public Law 100-559, which increased the size of the monument to 319.03 acres. [18] New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman sponsored the legislation. The boundaries were extended to incorporate farm lands in the valley bottom to the west, north, and east and uncultivated terraces to the west and north (see Figure 11.3). This was a move long advocated by those who feared violation of a score of prehistoric sites outside the former monument boundaries and those attempting to curb damage to the West Ruin caused by irrigation waters (see Chapter 12).

map of park boundary
Figure 11.3. Expanded boundary, 1988.
(click on image for larger size)

Concurrently, a new General Management Plan for Aztec Ruins National Monument was prepared to serve as a guideline for operation of the facility into the twenty-first century. [19] It underscored the complex problems associated with a public holding engulfed by private properties as diverse as family residences, gas well pads, alfalfa fields, and apple orchards and served by a county-maintained road carrying heavy individual and commercial traffic. The cultural and natural resources of the monument were reviewed in order to identify specific threats to both so that preservation will be assured and to balance and promote scientific and general public interest in their understanding. To accomplish this, the General Management Plan indicated that the entire monument area be designated a historic zone. The plan's authors further proposed that seven subzones listed below, each with specific management needs, be delineated within the monument.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006