Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.

More Ancient Pueblos and Ruins:

Aztec Ruins, New Mexico - Great Kiva, photo by the National Park Service.

Aztec Ruins, New Mexico – Great Kiva, photo by the National Park Service.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico – Aztec Ruins Monument contains the remains of prehistoric Anasazi structures. The ruins were named when European settlers mistakenly attributed them to the Aztecs. The largest preserved structure is the West Ruin, a D-shaped great house constructed in the early 1100s. With close to 400 rooms, the site was occupied for over 200 years. Hubbard Site, dating from the early 1100s and one of only a handful of tri-walled structures in the Southwest, has three concentric walls divided into 22 rooms, with a kiva. Also of note is the Great Kiva, situated in the center of West Ruin’s plaza. It was rebuilt in 1934 by Earl Morris, an archeologist for the American Museum of Natural History.

By 1300 A.D., the Anasazi had vacated the sites and left the river valley for unknown reasons. Aztec Ruins National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, is one mile north of Aztec, New Mexico, off US 550. Aztec Ruins are also part of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park World Heritage Site. Contact: Astec Ruins National Monument, 84 County Road 2900 (“Ruins Road”), Aztec, New Mexico  87410, 505-334-6174, ext. 230

Black Mesa, Arizona – Also called Big Mountain, Black Mesa, located in northeastern Arizona, is a major geographic feature of the Colorado Plateau. This extensive plateau rises to about 8,000 feet at its highest point. It derives its dark appearance from the numerous seams of coal which run through it. Reliable springs surfacing at several locations made it suitable continuous habitation and was sporadically occupied by Paleo-Indians as early as 7000 B.C. There is abundant evidence of Basketmaker II occupation north of the Hopi villages on Black Mesa. Prehistoric farmers returned to the same habitation sites and campsites year after year. They were flood-plain farmers, collecting some portion of the seasonal rains as they streamed off the mesas and flooded their cornfields positioned in or along broad, shallow washes. The mesa is now split between the Hopi and Navajo tribal reservations. It is located 17 miles west of Rough Rock, Arizona.

Butler Wash Overlook, Utah – Butler Wash Ruin is a cliff dwelling that was built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans, sometimes known as Anasazi, in about 1200 A.D. Parts of the site has been stabilized and reconstructed, but most of it remains as it was found in the 1800s. There are habitation, storage, and ceremonial structures, including four kivas. This ruin is located in a side canyon of Butler Wash, on the east side of Comb Ridge. A trail to the site winds its way across slick rock and washes to reach an overlook of the cliff dwelling. Round trip hiking distance is one mile and takes approximately a half-hour. The difficulty is moderate. An interpretive sign is located at the overlook. Ample parking and a restroom are provided. There is no water at this site, and desert temperatures can be extremely hot and dry. Plan and be prepared. Bring appropriate clothing and lots of water when visiting this site. The site, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, is located about 14 miles south of Blanding, Utah, and is well signed on Hwy 95. It is open year-round, and there is no admission fee. Contact Information: Butler Wash, BLM Monticello Field Office, 435 North Main, PO Box 7, Monticello, Utah 84535, 435-587-1500.

Casa Grande National Monument, Arizona – Casa Grande, administered by the National Park Service, is one of the most intriguing prehistoric ruins in the United States. Built by the Hohokam Indians in the Gila Valley sometime between 1150 and 1350 A.D., the four-story building and outlying structures may have been used as dwellings, a ceremonial site, or possibly an astronomical observatory. By 1450, for reasons still unknown, Casa Grande was abandoned. The Jesuit priest Father Eusebio Kino came upon the site in 1694 and named it Casa Grande (Great House). In 1892 it became the first archaeological preserve in the United States. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument encompasses 60 prehistoric sites, including the Great House complex. It is situated within the city limits of Coolidge, Arizona, off AZ 87. A Visitors Center has interpretive exhibits, and self-guided tour and ranger-conducted talks are available. 520-723-3172.

Chimney Rock Archeological Site, Colorado – Located in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, the site is between Durango and Pagosa Springs. It is managed by the Pagosa Ranger District, USDA Forest Service. Designated an Archaeological Area and National Historic Site in 1970, Chimney Rock lies on 4,100 acres of San Juan National Forest land surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The site was home to the modern Pueblo Indians’ ancestors 1,000 years ago and is of great spiritual significance to these tribes. Their ancestors built over 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor, probably near the sacred twin rock pinnacles. Of the hundreds of individual sites dotting the landscape, researchers have thus far found 91 structures that may have been permanent, plus 27 work camps near farming areas, adding up to more than 200 individual rooms. The Chimney Rock Interpretive Association conducts daily guided walking tours and operates the Visitor Center during in-season, May 15 to September 30. More information Chimney Rock Interpretive Program, P.O. Box 1662, Pagosa Springs, Colorado  81147, 970-883-5359.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Colorado – The center is located in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest — the Pueblo people’s ancestral homeland, whose nations today are located in Arizona and New Mexico. American Indian lands in or near the area today include those of the Mountain Ute, Southern Ute, Paiute, Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, and numerous other tribes’ reservations are not too far distant. The name for this area in Keres, including Mesa Verde and the Great Sage Plain, is katach-ta kaact, meaning “wide area of dwellings.” People have lived in the Mesa Verde region of the American Southwest for thousands of years. For the vast majority of that time, the inhabitants were American Indians — hunters, foragers, and farmers who thrived in the canyon-and-mesa country of what today encompasses portions of southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Only in the last approximately 250 years have other people — mostly Europeans and Americans of European descent –moved into the area. The indigenous peoples of the region are interested in the past because they consider their ancestors’ relationships to be sacred. More information: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, 23390 Road K, Cortez, Colorado  81321-9408, 970-565-8975 or 800-422-8975.

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico – Also known as “Inscription Rock,” this massive rock formation rises more than 200 feet above the plains. On top of the formation are the remains of two Anasazi pueblos, the most complete of which is A’ts’ina, built in 1275 A.D. With almost 900 rooms, this pueblo is thought to have housed between 1000 and 1500 people. El Morro’s base contains hundreds of Indian petroglyphs and the chiseled names of numerous explorers, soldiers, settlers, and immigrants. The first European inscription was made in 1605 by Juan de Oñate, the first governor of New Mexico. The national monument is administered by the National Park Service and is located 43 miles southwest of Grants, New Mexico, off NM 53. It is open daily. Contact: El Morro National Monument, HC 61 Box 43, Ramah, New Mexico  87321, 505-783-4226 ext. 0.

Escalante Ruin, Colorado – The Escalante Ruin was first investigated in 1776 by the Domínguez-Escalante Expedition, looking for a northern route from the New Mexico missions to the ones at Monterey, California. The ruin consists of a partially excavated multi-storied masonry pueblo with at least 20 rooms and a kiva. Built by the San Juan Anasazi between 900 and 1300 A.D., it represents the small surface pueblos that were once common throughout the region. The Escalante Ruin is located at the Anasazi Heritage Center, an anthropological museum with exhibits on prehistoric Anasazi culture. It is situated two miles south of Dolores, Colorado, on CO 145, then ½  mile west on CO 184. A trail leads from the Anasazi Heritage Center to the ruin. It is open daily. More Information: Escalante Ruin, 27501 Highway 184, Dolores, Colorado 81323, 970-882-5600.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico – National monument preserves cliff dwellings and other significant archeological remains left by prehistoric American Indians of the Mogollon Culture. The well-preserved cliff dwellings, constructed in the late 1200s, contain 42 rooms and are located within five natural caves in a narrow side canyon above the Gila River. The TJ Ruin contains unexcavated remains of a small pueblo inhabited for roughly 900 years, beginning about. 500 A.D. The national monument is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Forest Service. It is 44 miles north of Silver City, New Mexico, at the end of NM 15. The cliff dwellings trail and Visitors Center are open daily. More information: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, HC 68 Box 100, Silver City, New Mexico 88061, 575-536-9461.

Homolovi Ruins State Park, Arizona – In the high grassland of 14th century northern Arizona, Ancient Puebloans found a home along the Little Colorado River. These people, the Hisat’sinom (known to archaeologists as the Anasazi, paused in their migrations to till the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join people already living on the mesas, people who are today known as the Hopi. The Hopi people of today still consider Homolovi and other pre-Columbian sites in the southwest, to be part of their homeland. They continue to make pilgrimages to these sites, renewing the ties of the people with the land. The site includes a visitor center and museum. More information: Homolovi Ruins State Park.

Kinishba Ruins, Arizona – Kinishba Ruins is a sprawling, 600-room pueblo archaeological site in eastern Arizona that includes a combination of Mogollon and Anasazi cultural traits and is considered ancestral to both the Hopi and Zuni cultures. The large pueblo ruin containing nine masonry buildings was constructed between 1250 and 1350 A.D. by the pre-Columbian Mogollon culture. The pueblo is situated on the upper end of a grass-covered valley and originally had 400-500 ground floor rooms standing two or three stories high. At its peak, Kinishba may have housed up to 1000 occupants. The pueblo was vacated in the late 14th-early 15th centuries for unknown reasons. Kinishba Ruins, a National Historic Landmark, is seven miles west of Whiteriver, Arizona, off AZ 73 on Fort Apache Indian Reservation. For more information, call 520-338-4625.

Lowry Ruins, Colorado – Named after early homesteader George Lowry, this ancient pueblo was constructed about 1060 AD on top of abandoned pit houses from an earlier occupation period. Its 40-100 inhabitants were farmers who also hunted small game, made elaborately decorated pottery, and wove cotton obtained by trade. Lowry Pueblo was excavated during summer field seasons (1930-1936) by Paul S. Martin of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967 and now is a part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Lowry’s architecture and masonry indicate a strong influence from Chaco Canyon, about 100 miles south in New Mexico Lowry, among the northernmost Chaco-style communities, which may have formed an interdependent network spread thinly across the eastern half of the Ancestral Pueblo homeland. It is located 27 miles northwest of Cortez, Colorado. More information: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument/Anasazi Heritage Center, 27501 Highway 184 Dolores, Colorado  81323, 970-882-5600.

Montezuma Castle, Arizona

Montezuma Castle, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona – Montezuma Castle was built by prehistoric Indians in the early 1100s and received its name from Anglo-American settlers who mistakenly believed that Aztec Indians had built it. Situated in a cliff recess 100 feet above the Verde Valley, Montezuma Castle is a five-story pueblo with 20 rooms similar in style to the many Anasazi dwellings found throughout the Southwest. Nearby is Castle A, a 45-room pueblo built at the base of the cliff. Montezuma Well, just north of the pueblos, is a large limestone sink used as a source of water for irrigation by the pueblo inhabitants. In the early 1400s, the valley was vacated for unknown reasons. Montezuma Castle National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, is north of Camp Verde, Arizona, off I-17. A self-guided tour is available. A Visitors Center and museum are open daily. 527 S. Main St, PO Box 219, Camp Verde, Arizona 86322,  928-567-3322.

Mule Canyon Ruins, Utah – A small Anasazi village, this Ancient Puebloan ruin is located on Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. Well-preserved pueblo surface ruins found at this site are over 700 years old. The ruin complex includes above-ground and underground dwellings: a kiva and tower that have been excavated and stabilized and a block of twelve rooms. The Bureau of Land Management administers mule Canyon Ruin. The Mule Canyon Ruin site is located about 20 miles south and west of Blanding, Utah. It may be accessed from Highway 95. It has a paved parking area, which is well signed on the north side of the highway. More information: Mule Canyon Ruins, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, PO Box 7, Monticello, Utah 84535, 435-587-1500.

Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument, Arizona – This monument, administered by the National Park Service, contains three large prehistoric Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings constructed between 1200 and 1300 A.D. Keet Seel, with over 160 rooms including six kivas, is the largest cliff dwelling in Arizona; Betatakin Ruin has 135 rooms including living quarters, granaries and one kiva; and Inscription House, the smallest of the three, has 44 rooms, several granaries, and one kiva. The pueblos were vacated in the 1300s, probably due to erosion, depleted the soil in the canyon floor, and lowered the water table. The monument is 30 miles southwest of Kayenta, Arizona, off US 160 on AZ 564. The Visitors Center is near the Betatakin Ruin site and is open daily, except for major holidays. Two self-guided overlook trails are open year-round. Ranger-guided tours of the Keet Seel and Betatakin cliff dwellings are always available from Memorial Day to Labor Day and usually during the winter, spring and fall. More information: Navajo National Monument, HC 71 Box 3, Tonalea, Arizona  86044, 928-672-2700.

Pueblo Grand Ruin, Arizona – Pueblo Grande Ruin, a National Historic Landmark, is a large prehistoric Hohokam Indian village site that was continuously occupied between 100 and 1450 A.D. Heavily influenced by contacts with Mexico, the Hohokam built a Central American style ball court and a large masonry platform mound surrounded by caliche-brick dwellings between 1150 and 1450 A.D. The mound covers 3.3 acres and stands 20 feet high. The Pueblo Grande Museum contains exhibits on the Hohokam people. Admission fee. Located at 4619 E. Washington St. in Phoenix, Arizona. A self-guided trail leads to the ruin.

Salmon Ruins, New Mexico

Salmon Ruins, New Mexico

Salmon Ruins, New Mexico – Located on the north bank of the San Juan River, the Salmon Pueblo was constructed between 1088 and 1090 A.D. Built during the same time period as many of the great houses in Chaco Canyon some 45 miles to the south, this large Chaco pueblo originally contained over 300 rooms on three levels. Some of the many astronomical alignments found at the site appear to have been set in place as early as 1068. The initial structure is thought to have been completed in just two years, carrying trees and rock from up to 50 miles away. However, after just about 25-30 years, they abandoned the site. The reason is unknown. Around 1160 A.D., the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) began what is known as the “Secondary Occupation.” During this time, many structural modifications were made to the Salmon remained the largest pueblo on the San Juan River until it was abandoned again in about 1265 A.D. well-marked paths interpret the excavated ruins. More information: Salmon Ruins, 6131 Highway 64, Bloomfield, New Mexico.

Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument, Arizona – Tonto National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, contains three prehistoric Salado Indian cliff dwellings constructed from about 1250 to 1300 A.D. The monument consists of the Upper Ruin, with 32 ground floor rooms and eight second-story rooms; the Lower Ruin, with 16 ground floor rooms and three second-story rooms; and the Lower Ruin Annex. There are also at least 62 additional sites. The Salado were primarily farmers descended from the Hohokam who settled the Tonto Basin in the 700’s. Between 1400 and 1450, for unknown reasons, the Salado vacated their cliff dwellings. Tonto National Monument is 31 miles northwest of Globe, Arizona, on Arizona 88. A Visitors Center and museum are open daily. 26260 N AZ Hwy 188 #2, Roosevelt, Arizona 85545, 928-467-2241.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona – Tuzigoot is the remnant of a prehistoric Sinagua pueblo constructed between 1125 and 1400 A.D. The is located on the summit of a steep hill overlooking the Verde River, one of Arizona’s few permanent streams. The Sinagua were sedentary farmers who appeared to have practiced floodwater agriculture. The pueblo originally had 86 ground floor rooms, some with two-stories entered through roof openings using ladders. In the early 1400s, the pueblo was vacated for unknown reasons. Tuzigoot National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, is two miles north of Cottonwood, Arizona, off Alternate Rte. 89. The monument and museum are open daily. Tuzigoot Visitor Center, 527 S. Main St, Camp Verde, Arizona 86322, 928-634-5564.

Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona – Having over 240 prehistoric Sinagua Indian sites, these include pit house villages built between 500 and 800 A.D. and several multi-room cliff dwellings and single-room field houses c. 1125 and 1250 A.D. By about 1250 A.D., the Sinagua had moved on, leaving the sites as the most obvious reminder of their habitation. Walnut Canyon National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, is 7 1/2 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, off I-40. The Visitors Center is open daily. Contact: Flagstaff Area National Monuments, 6400 N. Hwy 89, Flagstaff, Arizona  86004,  928-526-3367.

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona – This monument comprises nearly 2,700 archeological sites, the vast majority of which are Sinagua and Anasazi, dating from about 100-1250 A.D. The two largest dwellings, built between 1100 and 1250 A.D., are Wupatki-with up to 100 rooms built against and atop a mesa; and Citadel-a 50 room structure that almost surrounds a central plaza. The Monument also contains many smaller pueblo ruins, pit houses, reservoirs, petroglyphs, and a masonry ball court. By about 1250 A.D., perhaps due to extended drought or over-utilization of natural resources, the pueblos were permanently vacated. Wupatki National Monument is 35 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, off U.S. 89. The Visitors Center is open daily. Contact: Flagstaff Area National Monuments, 6400 N. Hwy 89, Flagstaff, Arizona 86004, 928-679-2365.

Pueblo Indian Man

Pueblo Indian Man

Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Colorado – Part of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park has been set aside to preserve the Ancestral Puebloan remnants Ute cultures. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25 mile stretch of the Mancos River. Within the park are hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs. The Tribal Park is operated as a primitive area to protect its cultural and environmental resources. Tours are guided by Ute Indians’ broad knowledge of Ute and Ancestral Puebloan cultures. The tours include history and rock art, surface sites, and cliff dwellings. To protect fragile resources, self-guided tours are not permitted. More information: Ute Mountain Tribal Park, P.O. Box 109, Towaoc, Colorado 81334, 970-749-1452.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

Also See:

Ancient Cities of Native Americans

Ancient Puebloans of the Southwest

Pueblo Indians – Oldest Culture in the U.S.

Pueblo and Reservation Etiquette

Spanish Missions in New Mexico

1 thought on “Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.”

  1. i have stumbled upon an older civilization of native healers who while not known by name were perhaps the origin of southwestern native american medicine. i have no other resource except a tale told to me while in college in pueblo, colorado. if anyone knows about this lost race please contact me at thank you.

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