Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway – NM
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesArcheological
- LocationNM, CO, UT
- Length181.3 of 480 total miles
The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway provides a unique, well-preserved view of the history, memories, and traditions of the native peoples who lived in the American Southwest as hunters and gatherers thousands of years ago. The region and the scenic byway protect sacred archaeological remains and cultural and historic sites and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the landscapes while experiencing ancient native cultures.
Story of the Byway
The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway ushers travelers into the world of ancient southwest American history. For 20,000 years our ancestors lived here as hunters and gatherers – nomads trailing the big game of our most distant memories. Over millennia of great change, they learned to domesticate their food sources and became the farmers who founded the towns that make this America’s archaeological heartland. This region, and the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, preserves sacred archaeological remains and cultural and historical sites. Prehistoric, Native American archaeology is abundant along this Byway, and the archaeological sites present direct connections to the oral histories that are still passed from generation to generation and provide a glimpse into the evolution of humans in the American Southwest. Cliff dwellings and ancient lost cities are prevalent along the route, are hidden in the beautiful canyons, and are conserved for travelers and hikers to explore. Rock art is preserved on sandstone slabs, and traditional markets and vendors preserve the traditions of their ancestors in the villages scattered in the region. Travelers can experience a wealth of Anasazi history and stunning cultural and archaeological sites including the Chaco Canyon National Park and El Morro National Monument. The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway carries inquisitive visitors back thousands of years through the raw natural beauty of the one-of-a-kind archaeological sites and the vast surrounding landscapes.
Beginning at Chaco Canyon and driving south out of the park, you will pass through an incredibly quiet landscape full of ancient native ruins. The byway near Crownpoint, a town well-known for its monthly Navajo Rug auction, winds through sandstone buttes. Driving west, El Morro National Monument will emerge suddenly. Head towards Farmington on US 64. In the outskirts of Farmington, the ruins of two pueblos are open to the public: Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, and the breathtaking shapes of the badlands are a must-see. The drive west on US 64 towards the Arizona border accentuates the splendor of the Trail of the Ancients, as the road descends a canyon filled with yellow- and gray-striped hills.
Points of Interest
Chaco Canyon (Chaco Culture National Historical Park)
Formerly a major ceremonial and trade center, this UNESCO World Heritage site was active from 850-1250 A.D. and is regarded as central to the ancestral Puebloan culture. It is located in a canyon that contains the largest excavated ruins in the Southwest.
El Morro National Monument
A crucial waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made El Morro a popular campsite for hundreds of years, and Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish and American travelers have carved over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Stunning 900-year-old preserved ancestral Pueblo ruins and structures
Explore the Trail of the Ancients
Begin your journey at the Chaco Canyon. The Chacoan people combined pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture. The undulating 2-foot thick walls, stacked thin sand-colored stones, still inspire awe.
From here, travel south to Crownpoint, known for its monthly Navajo Rug actions, then wind through sandstone buttes right out of a John Wayne western. Stop by the New Mexico Mining Museum or the El Malpais National Monument, where molten lava created an eera world of lava tubes, cinder cones, pressure ridges, and an ice cave.
As you drive west, the El Morro National Monument appears suddenly on the horizon like a huge ocean liner. El Morro was an important stop for travelers in the region, who often carved their names in the soft sandstone walls of the butte.
Head to Farmington on U.S.64. With its wealth of water, it's not surprising that the Farmington area was a busy place in prehistoric times. The ruins of two pueblos are open to the public: Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins. Both of these Chacoan outliers were settled in the eleventh century. If you've always wanted to go to the moon but never had the opportunity, visit the badlands. The fantastically colored and shaped formations were created by the erosion of geological strata of varying colors and resistance.
The drive west on U.S.64 to the Arizona border captures the essence of the Trail of the Ancients. The road descends a canyon filled with yellow- and gray-striped hills. The bright green swath of a wash dazzles among subtle earth tones.
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