IF YOU GO

What: Saturday, Sept. 21

8:30 a.m.: Morning hike along the pedestrian trail to Animas River. Meet at the Aztec Museum front door.

10 a.m.: Parade of Antique Trucks and Tractors in downtown Aztec.

· Immediately after the parade at Minium Park, 200 N. Park Ave., new Old Soreheads will be revealed and Pioneers of the Year will be recognized. Also: Pie auction and an appearance by Earl Morris, an early explorer of the Aztec Ruins.

12:45 p.m.: Walking tour of historical downtown. Begins at Aztec Museum.

1:30 p.m.: Walking tour repeats

Cost: Free

More Info: www.aztecmuseum.org, 505-334-9829

AZTEC — Don't let mud runoff from recent downpours dampen your enthusiasm for Aztec's 123rd birthday this Saturday.

Starting bright and early, the city and its founders will be honored during Aztec Museum Founders' Day.

In 1984, the city established Founders' Day to commemorate the original plat for Aztec filed on Sept. 13, 1890.

This year's theme, "Our Park, Our Friend," acknowledges the history of Aztec and the Aztec Ruins National Monument and serves as a nod to the unique relationship between the historic downtown and the World Heritage site.

The party kicks off with a morning walk from Aztec Museum to the Animas River to pay tribute to the cultural resource just across the river. Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge and Phil Slattery, Aztec Ruins facilities chief, will lead the walk.

Longtime resident Chuck Buck and John Austin -- a former Aztec High School history teacher who also worked for the National Park Service at both Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Aztec Ruins -- will be recognized as Pioneers of the Year. The two will ride along in a mid-morning parade of antique trucks and tractors.

Austin, 80, views the day as an opportunity to marvel at the area's best qualities.

"What's special about the Four Corners is its wealth of rivers, mild winters and open spaces," he said. "To me, the Four Corners area is probably the best place to live in the entire U.S."

Austin moved to Aztec from his hometown of Roswell in 1959 and has enjoyed the city's small town qualities and rich cultural resources.

"When I moved here, everybody knew everybody," he said. "Though that's changed somewhat. It's still the small community that makes it enjoyable. I don't have to fight a lot of traffic to get to the store."

Buck, 85, spent nearly two decades in the National Park Service and has lived in the old Citizens Bank building on South Main Street, inherited from his mother, since the mid-1980s.

"It's quite an honor to be recognized," Buck said. "I find this area's history so interesting. I didn't grow up here, so I have to learn it."

Buck was elected an Old Sorehead in 1994 and is a longtime booster for the city and its businesses. When he's not strolling the city and surrounding hills with his dog, Lindy, Buck enjoys local restaurants and taking in live music at Crash Music.

Though heavy rains caused thousands of dollars of damage to Pioneer Village -- the historical park behind the museum where the Founders' Day festivities were originally to take place -- museum board member Dale Anderson took it all in stride.

"It's a lot of mud, but you can't stop water. You just have to take it in stride," Anderson said. "Like the weather, the community changes all the time. The point is to know your history, but to also preserve it, to honor the past with a curious eye toward the future."

Anderson, who has owned and operated Aztec Media with Anna Chavez for nearly 25 years, hopes that spirit will take hold so the community continues to grow.

After the parade, the party will continue in nearby Minium Park for the revelation of the year's new Old Soreheads, a tongue-in-cheek title given to community leaders who raise the most charitable dollars. There will also be a pie auction and an appearance by Farmington archeological celebrity, Earl Morris, who is noted for his work at Aztec Ruins. Guided tours of historic downtown led by Carolyn Bowra will follow.

"Archeology is constantly changing. What they say today may be different tomorrow," Austin said. "That keeps all generations accountable and give us reason to look back and wonder where we're headed."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.