Whenever we travel places, regardless of where it is, we tend to try to imagine what it was like hundreds or thousands of years ago. Fortunately, there are a few places where you don’t have to use your imagination, but they have been preserved or unearthed by archeologists. In the four corners area, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet at a single point, there are two excellent ancient ruins that you should definitely visit if you’re in the area. There are the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, which is located near Alamosa, Colorado and the Aztec Ruins National Monument, which is in New Mexico. We visited them several years ago with the kids and it was a great experience.
One of the great things about Mesa Verde National Park is that you’re able to climb up to and walk through the cliff dwellings located there. The ancient Pueblo people inhabited the dwellings for about 700 years between 600 and 1300 AD. Some of the most interesting buildings are the Kivas, which the Pueblo people used for ceremonies. There is a whole in dug into the center of the floor of the Kivas called a sipapu, which represents their belief that their ancestors came to the surface from the underworld. It is well worth taking a tour while you’re there so that you learn about the ancient Pueblo people as well the current efforts to preserve the ruins. The kids really enjoyed the fact that they were able to walk through the ruins, through the doorways, hallways, into the Kivas, it is a true hands on experience.
Mesa Verde is the most well-known ruin in the area, but take the time to visit the Aztec Ruin National Monument. These aren’t cliff dwellings, but the more typical ruins of the ancient Pueblo people. A smaller version of the ruins found at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, this not as well-known ruin is another great place to explore the history of the Southwest. You are able to walk through these ruins as well, although not as well-preserved as the ruins at Mesa Verde, it is still a treat to visit. Understanding that there was a civilization building large cities here in the United States over a thousand years ago is often a surprise to people as we always think of Europe and the Middle East as the cradle of civilization.
Visiting ancient ruins in the United States is truly a special experience. Obviously going to Greece or Italy to visit ancient ruins is a classic experience, but you don’t have to fly overseas to see ancient ruins. It is well worth taking time to visit our own ancient ruins and learn about the people who inhabited North America so long ago. Thanks to the hard work of the archeologists, we’re able to step back in time and imagine ourselves in an ancient city bustling with hundreds of ancient Pueblo citizens.