AZTEC — In less than two weeks, touring the Aztec Ruins National Monument will open up a new experience of the ancient pueblo people who once lived in the Four Corners area.

Starting in April, the Ruins will offer reservation-only, ranger-guided tours on the first Sunday of each month through October. A lucky few will experience the East Ruin.

"This is a special opportunity to see a whole other side of the Ruins," said Ranger Lauren Blacik. "Access to this area has been really limited, but last year we offered monthly tours and the overwhelming response was shocking. So we're offering them each month again this year."

Only partially excavated back in the 1950s, the eastern portion allows visitors the chance to see through an archeologist's eyes.

The site's jewel is a large depression for a Great House — or ceremonial, communal space — that rivals the size and length of its excavated and recreated western twin.

Developed into the mid-13th century, the multistoried Great House's walls are constructed with many kinds of masonry, but often its builders used cobblestones or river stones reinforced with a veneer of ground sandstone blocks.

Partially exposed beams and slats of various woods were made from logs harvested in Colorado and show the care taken in selecting materials used at the site.

"It's like the quarried sandstone that was not obviously as close as stones from the river," said Ranger Tracy Bodnar.


"Much of the wood - spruce, fir, ponderosa and aspen - all came from the north, suggesting a lot of investment in quality over convenience of the materials used, much like the care we take in our gathering places today."

Making connections from present day to the Puebloan past is what Bodnar believes is the greatest value of the tour.

"The East Ruin gives people the chance to get a better understanding of what a big community was living here roughly 800 years ago," said Ranger Tracy Bodnar. "Just the vastness of the site is what gets people's inner archeologist going."

With two rangers leading the way, up to 15 visitors at a time can marvel at the grand plaza, see up close a rich supply of intact Puebloan pottery and take in an exposed 30-foot-wide section of a roadway that leads to Chaco Canyon.

But don't forget to lace up with sturdy footwear.

"There are no developed trails along the nearly one-mile tour," Bodnar said. "When you walk through East Ruin, there's a lot of stuff buried underneath you. The wonder of the place really attracts me."

To reserve a spot, call the Visitor Center at the Aztec Ruins at 505-334-6174. The East Ruin tours are held on the first Sunday of each month at 3:00 p.m. The cost to visit Aztec Ruins is $5 per adult and free for children and annual, senior, or access pass holders. There is no extra charge for the East Ruin tour.

James Fenton can be reached at; 505-564-4621. Follow him on Twitter