Abo Ruins Salinas National Monument

7 Ancient Ruins in New Mexico You Need to See

When we think of traveling across the US, we usually picture hiking through lush nature parks or enjoying the hustle of metropolitan cities. But, did you know that you can find mysterious ancient artifacts and ruins in the country as well?

The first natives began to settle in the Southwest area of New Mexico around 12,000 years ago. These early civilizations have left behind beautiful reminiscences of their presence, including cliff dwellings, ancient buildings, and petroglyphs.

Interested in taking glimpses into the past or sharing a learning experience with your family?

Then the ancient ruins in New Mexico are the ideal vacation spots for you. Check out this ultimate list to start compiling your itinerary today.

1. Abo Ruins Salinas National Monument

The Salinas National Monument is one of the best-preserved ancient ruins in New Mexico. Located in the city of Mountainair, the Abo Ruins showcase the illustrious history of three Spanish missions.

Abo Ruins Salinas National Monument. photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

The site was first used back in the 14th century as a trading hub. After that, Antonio de Espejo, a renowned Spanish explorer, took over the area.

Further, in 1622, 1600 indigenous people lived in the area. Similarly, it was designated as the primary site for the Mission of San Gregorio de Abo.

Today, the site displays numerous ancient exhibitions from that era for interested history buffs visiting every year. In addition, the visitor’s center has a museum to educate guests about the ruins in the area.

On the other hand, if you want to spend some time on your feet, you can book a petroglyph tour led by rangers themselves.

This tour takes you through advanced reservations. These reveal the fascinating facts about each ruin while you observe it in real-time.

For those studying the diversity of American history and heritage, the Abo Ruins are a must-visit site.

If you have a rental car while staying in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, it makes for a great day trip given the proximity to the two largest metro cities in New Mexico.

2. Aztec Ruins National Monument

Like the Abo Ruins, the Aztec Ruins are ancient ruins in New Mexico dating back to the 11th century. The government protects and preserves the area. So, you can visit the National Monument when you visit Farmington.

Aztec Ruins. Photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

Here, you can visit the Ancestral Puebloan structures. However, there are no Aztec ruins on the site, as the name suggests.

Nevertheless, the UNESCO World Heritage Department designated it one of the most appropriately preserved sites in 1987. It displays advanced Puebloan engineering and architecture unlike any other site in the Southwest.

But, the name Aztec was, in fact, due to a mistake made by European settlers in the 19th century. Upon uncovering the site, they believed they had found an ancient Aztec place.

Most tourists love this spot because it has all the necessary amenities for people traveling with families. In addition, you can explore the visitor center and its museum and book a guided tour along with the ruins.

Besides that, you can even opt for a self-guided educational tour or stroll through the heritage garden. The site also has a native plant walk. Here you can discover ancient plant species and walk through a pedestrian bridge dating back to the Old Spanish missions.

3. Pecos National Historical Park

Another well-preserved National Historical Park in New Mexico is in Pecos, called Cicuique after its original inhabitants. The first village ever built on the site dates back to around 1100 CE. You can still observe some original remnants of the rock and mud structures on the site.

Pecos National Historical park. photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

Around 1450 CE, the small village developed into a town with buildings up to five stories high. Later, the Spanish inhabited it, who built architectural wonders in the form of mission churches in the area.

Interestingly, the traditional kiva built right in front of the church shows the rejection of the non-Christian population clearly in this culturally diverse area. However, you can observe that the pueblos and the Spanish lived in harmony on the site until it was invaded by the Comanche Indians.

These rich cultural and traditional attributes make Pecos one of the fascinating ancient ruins in New Mexico for history buffs.

4. Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier was one of the longest-standing dwellings of the ancient Southwest people. Located near soft volcanic cliffs with natural caverns, the area provided fertile soil and natural shelter to these people for centuries.

Bandelier National Monument. photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

The ruins of the ancient settlement stretched for about 33,000 acres and were inhabited between 1150 to 1550 CE. You can explore the uniquely carved cave dwellings and the mysterious underground kivas built for religious rituals.

Similarly, you can take guided or self-guided hikes across the nature trails while observing the preserved remnants of the ancient civilization. Furthermore, you can spend time at the visitors center to indulge in various activities.

These include watching detailed documentaries about the history and excavation of the site, mesmerizing night sky programs, and campfire gatherings.

5. Petroglyph National Monument

Located west of Albuquerque, the Petroglyph National Monument offers a complete package for history buffs. Apart from the ruins of ancient civilizations and their cultural attributes, you can explore a plethora of archeological sites, five volcanic cones, and of course, petroglyphs.

Petroglyph National Monument. photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

One of the largest petroglyph sites in the US, it has a fascinating 25000 designs and symbols for you to observe. Carved against volcanic rocks and cave walls, these petroglyphs are well-preserved and date back almost 400-700 years ago.

These petroglyphs are not only a feast for the eye, but they also help us learn a great deal about the religious practices and traditions of ancient people.

6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Ancient ruins in New Mexico include three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Chaco Culture National Historical Park is one of them. The park preserves an enormous ancestral settlement alive with historical houses and Ancestral Puebloan structures.

Chaco. photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

Dating back to 850-1150 CE, the dwellings show an amazing level of intricate architecture and engineering, showcasing the skill of ancient civilizations.

You can move through the houses integrated with interlinked rooms and sophisticated drainage systems to observe the ancient lifestyle hands-on.

Moreover, the park authorities let you purchase guided tours or move around the park by yourself. You can either drive across with your family or go biking down the historical memory lane while indulging in some physical activity.

7. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila Cliff Dwellings are located approximately 420 kilometers southwest from Albuquerque. If you’re interested in the ruins of ancient dwellings and civilizations more than anything else, this site is a must-visit for you.

Gila Cliff Dwellings - photo credit: Kyle Kroeger

The site boasts a network of cliff houses belonging to the Ancestral Puebloan people from 700 years ago. You can take a guided tour inside these well-preserved houses and observe ancient dwellers’ lifestyles.

Similarly, the site also has five natural caves with mesmerizing petroglyphs and ancient drawings to take inspiration from.

The overall excursion is covered in a 1.6-kilometer trail with breathtakingly steep steps to reach into the cliffside homes. Exiting the trail is relatively easy after exploring the caves, so you can take your kids along if they are up for the challenge.

Did you enjoy your visit to the ancient ruins in New Mexico? You’ll find more in the Four Corners area you might want to visit, including some in Arizona.

As spectacular as the ruins of the US Southwest are, the largest and most spectacular ancient sites in the Americas are ancient Maya sites, south of the border. You’ll find many of them in Quintana Roo and other parts of Mexico.

Recommendations and Resources

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Read more about your destination, and use guidebooks when you go:

Carrying a physical book with you might be old-fashioned, but in a world where cell service is spotty or nonexistent, it pays to do so. The Lonely Planet guide books are my go-to travel books. You can find information about these ruins and other attractions in New Mexico and its neighboring states in their Southwest USA Travel Book (or ebook). If buying a book through my link, a 10% discount will be automatically applied to your purchase (but if you don’t see the discount, use coupon code EMESEFROMM10)

Book your flight:

Unless you live within driving distance from these sites, you might need to fly to a close airport (either Albuquerque or Phoenix). Check several different sites to find the best deals. Unless you know what airline you are using use (and have a credit card with points from that airline), you could checkCheapOairandWayAwayfor deals.

Book your rental car:

If you need to rent a car, compare prices of different car rental companies throughDiscover Cars. Or, useRentalCars.com.

Book your accommodations:

You can useTrivagoto compare deals on hotels and alternative accommodations. Or, book a place throughBooking.com.

Archaeological sites in New Mexico, USA
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