BLOOMFIELD — Now you can fly between Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins in a matter of seconds.

A new interactive computer exhibit that brings Puebloan society to life in a virtual guided tour spanning hundreds of years is available at Salmon Ruins and Aztec Ruins.

Called "Chaco's Legacy — Ancient Migration in the Pueblo World," the twin digital exhibits officially opened June 5 after a beta version was tested in May.

The project was made possible by a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant.

"Salmon Ruins led the way. This has been their project," said Lauren Blacik, Aztec Ruins ranger. "We are really excited with the inclusion of the exhibit to Aztec Ruins."

Paul Reed on Wednesday demonstrates new technology now being used at the Salmon Ruins in Bloomfield.
Paul Reed on Wednesday demonstrates new technology now being used at the Salmon Ruins in Bloomfield. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

The touch-screen exhibit was created by Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist at Salmon Ruins, and Douglas Gann, a digital programmer. Both work for Archeology Southwest, a nonprofit organization in Tucson.

"Neither Doug nor I see this is as a replacement for what we're already doing here. We want people to experience archeological sites in the field, but we want to have this to be an enhancement to that experience," he said. "We hope it helps all ages make deeper connections and understand that the past matters, that history matters and that it's all part of our legacy."

The exhibit was started in 2011 when Reed and Gann and others took thousands of photographs of artifacts and structures at area cultural parks to produce a tour of the Four Corners Chacoan migration and sites that looks a lot like a high-end video game.

Chacoan migrants are believed to have created colonies as part of a northward expansion.

Using interactive gaming technology, Gann worked on the digital end, using Chronological Virtual Reality, a content management system used in constructing interactive exhibits.

"With this exhibit, folks can go on a digital journey from Chaco up to Salmon, first, then over to Aztec, to illustrate that process that unfolded in the late 1000s and early 1100s," Reed said. "This follows a research project we did that looked at specific areas of architecture — gemstone rocks, pottery, textiles, perishables — to see if we could track this migration that people have talked about for decades. And sure enough, we found really strong evidence for the actual physical movement of people and good linkages for the things they did in both places — the right dates, to indicate that it was Chaco first, then (Salmon Ruins) and then Aztec Ruins."

Reed hopes to add more to the exhibit soon, including multiple languages and its availability online.

"The nice thing about this system is that most the of the programming is in place," Reed said. "We've got plans to accommodate multiple languages — Spanish and Native languages. We've talked to consultants at Zuni Pueblo, folks at Hopi, Acoma Pueblo, our Navajo neighbors and (tried to) make it a more multicultural thing. The system is pretty much infinitely expandable."

Gann, who has worked in archeology and 3D graphics for 25 years, hopes the exhibit appeals as much to students and it does to septuagenarians. He asked his relatives for feedback while testing the virtual tour during early stages of its development.

"When I was working on the early versions of it, I had what Paul called the 'Grandmother Test,'" Gann said by telephone on Wednesday. "I was adamant that if our grandmothers can't use the exhibit then it's a failure. I want the technology to be usable by and meaningful to everyone."

To take a view or download a free copy of the exhibit, email Douglas Gann at dgann@archaeologysouthwest.org. A preview is available at www.archaeologysouthwest.org.

"We hope this is going to be a significant bridge to understanding, allowing folks to go anywhere in time and space to explore Chacoan culture," Reed said. "Hopefully this exhibit helps, that it's a well-rounded view on how all these places fit together."

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.