Day Eleven: Aztec Ruins, dead tarantula, abandoned buildings

We took advantage of this last day before the three day weekend to slip across New Mexico. Before we crossed the state, though, we took an interesting tour of the Aztec Ruins.

First, a word of explanation: These are not actually Aztec ruins, they were left by the same people who left the ruins 70 miles north, in Mesa Verde, and 70 miles south, in Chaco. The early explorers saw these ruins, though, and decided they were Aztec. So, both the town and and ruins are called Aztec. It’s okay, there’s no cedars in Cedar Breaks, either. Those early explorers were a hardy bunch, but not always up on history.

The Aztec Ruins were about as interesting as what we had seen at Mesa Verde yesterday. In fact, we got to be even more up close with these ruins than we were yesterday. Before we get to our tour, though, here is our requisite picture of a cute bunny that was there.


So, the ruins themselves. First, we were surprised how “in town” these ruins were. We turned out of our hotel parking lot, took the first right, and two blocks later, we were in the ruins. George, our volunteer guide, said, “Pretty thoughtful of them to build all these ruins right in the middle of town, huh?” George is a kidder. He is also a great guide, and this was obviously not his first trip through the ruins.


This was the largest of the ruins that we toured, with 100+ different rooms. George showed us how the buildings lined up so the sun shone in a particular way on the first day of summer and the first day of winter, like a mini-Stonehenge. He also showed us how the ruins are a combination of the architecture used in Mesa Verde, and the style used in building the Chaco buildings. Essentially, there was a merger of some sort with the different peoples, and we were able to see how their building styles evolved over the years. To us, it just looks like a single ruin, but in reality, the people lived there for 200 years or more. If we think about it – we are not building houses today that much resemble the houses of the early 18th century.

There are a number of kivas here, rooms which were used for ceremonial purposes at best guess. George said he thought the kivas served many purposes – for learning, training, religious ceremonies, etc.


We spent an information-packed hour wandering through the ruins with George, and then we got to the highlight – a completely restored Great Kiva. A Great Kiva differs from a normal kiva not just in size, but in access. In a typical kiva, you entered the room via a ladder in the ceiling. With a Great Kiva, there is a door that allows a front entrance, making it accessible to everyone. This restored Great Kiva is not original, but everything possible has been done to ensure accuracy, working off of photos that Earl Morris, the original archaeologist of the site, took early in the 1900s. Here’s a picture:


I will say this – standing inside the quiet of this Great Kiva felt the same as standing in any church – solemn, a place for respect – for the people, and for what they believed. It was very moving. One last piece of information about Aztec Ruins. There are sections of the ruins that have not been dug, and there are no current plans to do so. They are waiting at least a generation, so that archaeological technology will have advanced enough that they will be able to do a more thorough, less damaging dig. That idea really impressed me, as it runs contrary to how we tend to investigate – charge ahead and let the chips fall where they may.

When we were done with the Aztec Ruins, we headed for Clovis, New Mexico. I will write a lot about Clovis tomorrow, because (as Dawn says, I am shaking with excitement) because we are getting a personal tour of the Norman Petty Studios here in Clovis. That is where Buddy Holly recorded so many of his greatest songs. If you’ve read my book Rock ‘n Roll Heaven,  I don’t have to tell you what Buddy Holly means to me.

On the drive to Clovis, we saw the tale of two New Mexicos. Our route took us through Albuquerque, which is just like any sprawling city we might have seen in the Pacific Northwest. Dawn was grateful that I managed to get through the entire city without playing Weird Al’s ten minute epic, AlbuquerqueToo much traffic, too many chain stores/restaurants and strip malls. I couldn’t wait to get away from it and on the back roads again.

Once we got on Highway 60, rolling toward Clovis, we started passing through the smaller towns. Where Albuquerque was obviously affluent, the small towns were dusty and many, many of the buildings were abandoned. Having just come from the 800 year old ruins, seeing these abandoned buildings from our own last century gave us a different perspective. Here’s some of the interesting ones we passed today. An old house:


An old post office:


And, best of all, an old, abandoned church.


Inside, there was the remnants of an unusual battle between people who came to scribble prayers on the wall and some caretaker who kept painting over them. Here’s the inside of the church.


On the road, while I was looking out the side window, Dawn saw a tarantula in the road, then turned it into a tarantula pancake. She was unaware that there were tarantulas in New Mexico. I Googled it and found that not only are there tarantulas here, but this is their mating season, so the males are aggressive and in motion a lot right now. From that point on, there is some question as to whether Dawn will get out of the car or not.

We are taking it easy over the three day weekend. Tonight we are staying in Clovis, then in the morning, we are touring the Petty Studios. After that, we are driving to Roswell, because, well, UFOs! We are going to lay low in Roswell for two days, then we’ll head to Carlsbad Caverns on Monday, then into Texas on Tuesday.

Cheers, and safe travels!


  1. I’m loving that you’re sharing your trip with us all! The photos, commentary and history are all captivating. I am enjoying it immensely. Thank you! Can’t wait to hear about Buddy Holly tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have you hit a rest stop that says “watch for rattlesnakes” yet? Seems they like to hide behind cool toilets on hot days. There’s a stop somewhere between Albuquerque and Artesia NM that we saw the sign, fortunately never saw a rattlesnake!

    Btw…thanks for letting us all tag along on your trip!


  3. As I am reading this, Ray is tell me that Clovis is famous for making spearheads during the Stone Age. Of course, he explained it in more detail that that. I can feel your excitement for tomorrow, lucky you, such a great opportunity. I have a tarantula story. Years ago we were visiting my sister Sally in I believe Saugus, California. I was carrying a bag of groceries into the kitchen and crawling across the floor sideways, was the biggest tarantula. My husband at that time, scooped it up in a jar and took it to the neighbor next door. He opened the jar and let it crawl up his arm…yikes! Anyway, enjoy your night tonight and I already know that tomorrow you will be stoked. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well I can truthfully say that I’ve never heard that song before…and I hope I never will again, lol.

    On Fri, Sep 2, 2016 at 8:36 PM, A Lap Around America wrote:

    > shawninmon posted: “We took advantage of this last day before the three > day weekend to slip across New Mexico. Before we crossed the state, though, > we took an interesting tour of the Aztec Ruins. First, a word of > explanation: These are not actually Aztec ruins, they were ” >


  5. Really enjoying the diary of your trip…never know what is coming next! You two show us all a good example of how to find the fun/interest in each day 🙂 Looking forward to reading your escapades from today, tomorrow!!

    Liked by 1 person

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