When we got to Aztec, it was tough. Mother was mad at me because I was so mad at the road, and because I’m a pill in general. The next day Brian offered to take us to the Aztec ruins. He explained that they were’nt as remarkable as those at Chaco Canyon, but they had some really winning qualities. For one thing, you could go through them in half a day. For another thing, you could drive paved roads to them and park right next to them, and there was a gift shop and there were tour guides, and there was a “restored” kiva. Mother was game, and so was I. I wasn’t expecting much.
The Aztec ruins don’t cover a huge area. They’re basically within walking distance of fast food and grocery stores. There are picnic tables near the entrance shaded by old cottonwood trees. The entrance has a ramp, and the entire area is accessible to wheelchairs. I loved it.
My brother, who has worked for almost every food corporation in America, has the soul of a hippie, so he had been to the ruins pleny of times, and he could give lots of information about the place. He was a tour guide himself. It was about ninety degrees in the sun when we got out of the car, but the path through the park led through a lower level of the ruin, still very much like it was all those hundreds of years ago. We stepped down into the dark cool of it. The change in temperature felt almost miraculous. Brian explained how the rooms were designed and what uses were made of them. He talked about the first archaeologist who worked on the ruins and pointed out interesting features that we might have missed otherwise. Some young rangers were working even then on some still unearthed areas of the ruin. When we came back into the sun, he pointed out how the people of Aztec had chosen to make corner doorways in the upper floors, which compromised the structure a bit, but made for more appealing design.
We circled around to a small kiva which still showed some of the ancient desgins in the wall. Brian and mother talked. The day was hot, but not so hot we couldn’t stand it.
It reminded me of those times so long ago when Mother and Daddy would take us to historical places and then take long walks through them visiting about what was there, about what they thought was interesting. When I was a kid, I HATED it. I wanted to go—anywhere else. I wanted to go swimming or to grandma’s house or even fishing, but not the long walk through Fort Union. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”
Eventually we went through the large kiva that researchers had tried to rebuild. It was an amazing time. The room was cool and lit by windows. The space inside was vast, and there was a recording of native singers that played. I could not have hoped for better. I felt much of what I had hoped to feel at Chaco, and nothing at Chaco tries to take the imaginative risk that Aztec does.
For the half-speed hippie, who doesn’t really thrill to miles of desert hiking and would prefer a picnic of Kentucky Fried, Aztec State Park is worth every moment. They give you a glimpse into what real life is supposed to be–an opening into the light.