Four Corners and Aztec Ruins National Monuments, UT, AZ, CO, NM

CJP_4789The Colorado Adventure: Day 5

Ever stand in four states at one time? We did! (Kinda, the monument is actually 1800 feet to the east of the true mark…) Changing our schedule around during day 4 really helped make day 5 far more relaxing, and it was just the thing we needed. We made two short stops that day as we first headed west from Cortez and stopped at Four Corners National Monument, then circled back east toward Aztec Ruins National Monument on our way to Alamosa for the night.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Aztec mapFor stop number 5 we weren’t too far away from Four Corners National Monument, and since they didn’t allow visitors until 8 am it allowed us to have a little bit of a relaxed morning. In fact, the sun was already up by the time we hit the road. It was a slightly dreary morning, overcast with the remnants of rain still sitting on the ground as we approached the entrance. The surrounding terrain was pretty stark, which was a big difference from being surrounded by mountains like we had been for the past several days.

Even though we had a late start for us (me mostly if I’m honest), there were only a few other early risers in line to be let into the monument when we arrived. From what I had heard of Four Corners from others, it was definitely far more built-up now than it had been previously. It isn’t grand by any means, but there has been a good amount of effort put into the structure. You have the plaque embedded in the center, surrounded by platforms to help elevate you to get a better view. Then surrounding the entire thing are quite a lot of stalls where the local Native Americans sell their trinkets and souvenirs.

CJP_4785There is a 3 photo limit to help move the crowds along, but we found that everyone was pretty accommodating. While we had issues at other places with people stepping into photos, or not moving along once they got their pictures taken; at Four Corners everyone seemed to be very courteous, offered to take each other’s pictures, and moved out of the way as soon as they got their shots. Now granted, it was a bunch of us early risers and the bulk of the visitors would be arriving later. Only a fraction of the vendors were even there yet. From what I understand though, that is just how it works at Four Corners.

Overall, Four Corners is kind of one of those places you just have to try to divert to if you’re going to be in the area. Since it is in the area of Mesa Verde National Park, which is a must-see, you should just calculate this into your trip. Even though this survey spot is off by a little under 1800 feet, Congress still recognizes it as the symbolic monument to the location of the Four Corners. Overall, other than getting your picture taken and eating a funnel cake (I think that is what the little shack was selling…), there isn’t much else to see or do there.

So we got our shots and moved on down the road toward our next stop.

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Even though Four Corners was a neat place, we all had actually been to three of the four states before. Shortly after Cheryl and I had met in 2011; I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Arizona (Fran likes to comment on these posts 🙂 ) and a week prior Cheryl and the kids where there to visit her brother before he moved his family back to Iowa. Then in 2015 we took the road trip to Idaho for Cheryl’s bi-annual family reunion (a retroactive travel series has just been thought of) and share the news with her grandma that CJ was on her way. For the return trip I designed the route to go through Utah and Colorado. Then of course we were in the middle of a Colorado vacation adventure. So that left New Mexico as the new state of the Four Corners.

Aztec mapWell I didn’t like the idea of using Four Corners as a way to count New Mexico as a state we have visited. So I searched for a way to visit something in New Mexico, and found stop number 6, Aztec Ruins National Monument, that was sort of on the way back toward Alamosa from the Four Corners… It would have been quite a bit quicker to have just turned around and stayed in Colorado, but meh, we were close and needed to check off New Mexico so I worked it in.

There isn’t much in between the two locations, so plan accordingly if you also desire to stack the visits. Aztec Ruins is on the outskirts of Aztec, NM where New Mexico State University is located, with Farmington just down the road. So once you get there, there are plenty of places to stop for food, drink, and fuel.

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I had never heard of Aztec Ruins prior to trying to find some reason to go into New Mexico. Turns out it is actually historically connected to Mesa Verde. Originally discovered in 1859, it consists of the ruins of what I would call a small compound that was almost completely buried. It took until 1916 before restoration truly began, and almost two decades after that before they called their work complete. There are more ruins under the sand surrounding Aztec Ruins, but there aren’t plans to uncover those.

The Monument has a small gift shop where artifacts are displayed before you watch a short movie about the history of the site. Apparently, it was once theorized that the Aztec people of Mexico migrated north after their civilization began to decline. After the discovery, this was one of the places they were thought to have landed, and therefore the name Aztec Ruins. It has since been revealed that this was a home of the Hopi people after they departed from Mesa Verde. They have a narrative that prophesied Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins as stages of the Hopi civilization’s life-cycle (as far as I understood it anyhow). I think they currently believe they are in the third of the four stages??

Once you complete the movie, the exit leads right to the path that wanders through the ruins. It starts with the restored great Kiva, before moving on to the living quarters. It is still neat to me to see how historical people lived, especially the nomad civilizations. Maybe it’s just the part of me that desires to have the freedom to roam and experience the outside that gets drawn to it, or maybe it’s my inner nerd craving to absorb more knowledge. Either way, I’ll keep doing it. Both Mesa Verde and Aztec were interesting in that the Hopi lived in a settlement, but everything was compact. Almost like they developed the first apartment complexes where you might have to walk through someone else’s home to get to yours. lol.

In the end, Aztec Ruins was a neat place to check out at least once. Similar to Four Corners, if you can divert the time, it is close enough to Mesa Verde that you should try to. In total we walked roughly 3 miles around the grounds, got some pictures, watched CJ have a blast, and moved on down the road.

IMG_3964Up next, a huge bridge and animals!

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