National parks and monuments in the Four Corners

New Mexico 

  • Aztec Ruins National Monument
  • Chaco Canyon National Historic Park
  • El Morro National Monument
  • Bandalier National Monument
  • Petroglyph National Monument
  • El Malpais National Monument
  • Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

Arizona

  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument
  • Navajo National Monument

Colorado

  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Chimney Rock National Monument
  • Hovenweep National Monument
  • Yucca House National Monument
  • Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

Utah

  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument
  • Natural Bridges National Monument

AZTEC — Local archaeological sites are offering a chance to glimpse the past during a free day.

Today, the fee will be waived at all national parks and monuments in celebration of the National Park Service's 97th birthday. On Aug. 25, 1916, Congress created the National Park Service.

In the Four Corners, visitors to Aztec Ruins National Monument, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park and Mesa Verde National Park will be able to explore the ancient ruins for free.

At the peak of its inhabitation, 200 people lived in the Aztec Ruins and 30,000 lived in the valley, said Cyresa Bloom, a park ranger at the ruins.

Tree rings in the wood used to construct and repair the ruins indicate that the Puebloan people who occupied the Aztec Ruins left around 1270 and migrated south to the Rio Grande area, Bloom said.

No one knows for sure why the Puebloan people left Aztec. Bloom said the leading theory is that drought drove them away. But, Bloom added, the people had survived drought before and some research indicates that the river held enough water that they could have remained.

Bloom supports another hypothesis that the Puebloan people left in order to maintain their identity. She said the Aztec Ruins brought different clans together, and, as that happened, they also introduced new ideas.

"By taking new ideas, you lose some of your own," Bloom said.

The Puebloan residents of areas like Taos Pueblo have been key for researchers trying to understand the Aztec Ruins. Bloom said many of them have clan stories regarding Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins.

Cyresa Bloom talks about the history of Aztec Ruins National Monument on Saturday inside the Great Kiva at the national monument.
Cyresa Bloom talks about the history of Aztec Ruins National Monument on Saturday inside the Great Kiva at the national monument. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

"It's a continuing culture," Bloom said. "Something we don't want to lose."

A lot of the old stories have been carried on in ceremonies and traditional art, Bloom said.

"I tend to like some of the stories about water serpents," Bloom said, adding that she found it surprising that the Puebloan people have so many stories about water serpents while they lived in the desert.

To ensure that the culture isn't lost, the National Park Service employees work to preserve and research the ruins, as well as communicate with the visitors to "make sure people make a connection emotionally with the place," Bloom said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.