Monday, 5/3/21: When Aztecs Are Not Aztecs

My strategy came through again. We moved to this terrific free BLM campground located in an ATV/UTV haven called the Glade Road Recreational Area. The campground, within the recreational area, was called Brown Springs BLM Campground and was built only 2 years ago.

So, I found a small 9-site free BLM campsite exactly in the middle of where I wanted to go, just north of Farmington, about 215 miles from Santa Fe towards the northwest corner of New Mexico. We could base camp there and visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Rock Formations, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Angel Peak National Recreational Area, Shiprock, and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

There were only 2 hitches: 1) Only 9 sites? With so few camping options in the area, will there be any openings? It operates on a first-come, first-serve. This is good for us as any federal campground on the reservation system is, if open at all, booked up for months. 2) Although the campground is free, it requires a permit. What, where, how?

We were on the road to Farmington by 7 am. At 8 sharp, I called the Farmington BLM office. I can stop there to get the permit, however the campground was full all weekend. This was Monday and I was putting my strategy of only moving on weekdays, preferably early weekdays, to the test.

The BLM people were friendly and encouraging, but gave me no guarantees. I got my permit and drove off to bounce 3 miles over a severe washboard dirt road to reach the campground. This campground was built only two years ago. It was nearly complete boondocking, they provide vault toilets, but it was beautifully laid out. Best of all, four of the nine sites were open. We happily claimed ours. By 2 pm we were dug in like a tick.

I was afraid that the ATVers would be loud and obnoxious. They were not. In New Mexico, they are called OHV (Off Road Vehicles and that includes dirt bikes, 4x4 trucks, as well as ATBs and UTVs).

The Recreational Area featured cool rock formations, a bunch of challenging near-vertical loops, and a couple of lazy oil rigs barely pumping away.

I had read that the local Sinclair gas station had a free potable water and sewer dump station. I hadn’t seen an old Dino Sinclair station in decades, but here it was. We gladly filled up our gas tank in order to not feel guilty for getting water and dumping our portable grey water tank.

All we had time for was the Aztec Ruins National Monument, just 10 miles away in the town of Aztec. Farmington and Aztec kind of melded together. Like Las Cruces swallowing up Mesilla, Farmington was aiming squarely at Aztec.

It turns out that the ruins were not Aztec ruins at all. The Spanish, we were told, generically called all ruins Aztec. These were actually from the same Ancestral Pueblo people that built the settlement in the cliffs at Bandelier National Monument. There were no cliffs at this site, so they just built a small town with one large 3-story multiple-room building; a bunch of Kivas, one big and the rest small; and a courtyard. The engineering was quite impressive.

A Kiva is a round, mostly underground building that was used for ceremonies, to discuss important issues, and for education. It is the distinguishing building that the Ancestral Pueblo incorporated in all of their villages.

Like at Bandelier, the village’s heyday was in the 1100s. Then the Pueblo people migrated away. Most theories blame it on drought. The Hopi Tribe are the modern descendants of these ancestral people.

The round kivas were for celebrations, important meetings, and education. The Aztec Park re-created a kiva. The Park’s re-created Kiva had a conventional modern entrance. An original Kiva would have had a square hole in the middle of the roof with a ladder leading down.

A depiction of what the village would have looked like. The river is the Animas River and it was flowing pretty well when we were there.

The modern town of Aztec wasn’t anything too spectacular. There was a small downtown, which seemed to be more than what Farmington had, as far as downtowns went. Commercially speaking, Farmington, a city of 45,000, was just one long string-street of every franchise known to man. Where there wasn’t a franchise, there was an empty lot with signs promising a bunch of franchises coming soon.

America sold its soul to the automobile. There is no walking or biking to shop around here. You have shop, drive, shop, drive, shop, drive....... With just one long string street of businesses, the road clogs up with traffic. It’s not too bad if your next stop is on the right. Lord help you if your next stop is on the left. Ironically, this style of strip mall shopping was to get away from the downtown traffic. So, how did that work out?

New Mexico is a big oil producer. Oil is a staple in the Farmington economy.

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured.

Dave and Wanda

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