AZTEC — From vegetable oil powered cars to solar cooking and paper beads made from old magazines, the Aztec Ruins National Monument's annual Earth Day celebration on Saturday will try to educate visitors about sustainability and the environment.

Aztec Ruins is partnering with 30 Four Corners businesses to provide educational opportunities for visitors. The theme for this year's free celebration is "Footprints on the Earth."

"Footprints on the Earth" focuses on how humans impact the environment. Presentations, crafts, games and activities will help educate monument visitors about how to reduce their carbon footprint.

Donna Thatcher, the Riverside Nature Center education specialist, will be leading botanical tours of the Aztec Ruins. Tours will go through the picnic area and around the ruins. Thatcher said while the tour groups are looking at plants, she will carry a bag of different items that the Puebloan people made from the plants.

One of the plants that grows around the ruins is called a rabbit brush. Rabbit brush was traditionally used as a dye. Thatcher said she will have a piece of weaving dyed yellow with the rabbit brush. Unlike the items in the Aztec Ruins museum, people will be able to touch and handle the items Thatcher brings with her.


Thatcher said a lot of the traditional uses for plants continue today in modern Navajo and Puebloan art. However, the plants also serve an important ecological service. For instance, Thatcher said Pinyon Jays, a type of bird, depend on the piñon trees.

"Pinyon Jays don't care whether we like piñon nuts," Thatcher said.

The ruins has a garden that shows what Puebloan gardening looked like in pre-Colombian times. The garden has inspired the monument's staff to hand out packets of native plant seeds during the Earth Day celebration. To help people learn how to plant these seeds and grow a garden, organizations like Sustainable San Juan will have educational booths. Elisa Bird, who works with Sustainable San Juan, said the group has been at area Earth Day celebrations since 2006.


What: Fifth Annual Earth Day Celebration, "Footprints on the Earth"

When: When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Where: Aztec Ruins National Monument<

Cost:: Free park admission, activities, crafts, games and performances

Exhibitors Art of the Southwest

Aztec Library

Aztec Museum

Barnard, Cuatro (vegetable oil powered car)

Bickford, Carl (solar oven)

Bureau of Land Management

Center for Desert Archaeology

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

City of Aztec

Coalition for Natural Gas Vehicles

Durango Discovery Museum

Farmington Museum

First United Methodist Church Grocery Bag Project

Friends of Aztec Ruins

Haak'u Buffalo Dance Group

Herbert, Winter (soap-making)

Master Gardeners of San Juan County

Mesa Verde National Park

Native Roots Garden Center

Navajo Lake State Park

Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project

New Mexico State Energy Office

Red Apple Transit

Riverside Nature Center

San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District

Studio 23

Sustainable San Juan

Sutherland Farms

TouchCore iBook Textbooks

Turtle Lake Organic Community Garden


"We're old hats doing Earth Day," Bird said.

The monument began holding its Earth Day celebration in 2009, taking over after San Juan College stopped its annual celebration. Sustainable San Juan has been at the monument's celebration since its commencement. This year, the group will have information on gardening, buying local and living "in an Earth-friendly way."

Bird said Earth Day is important because "it reminds us that we are first and foremost earthlings."

She said people often get caught up in everyday life and forget about the environment. Earth Day gives a chance for people to focus on the earth's environment.

"Earth Day reminds us to connect with a place," Bird said.

One of the ways people can do that is by reducing trash placed in landfills. Bird said if people "pollute our backyard" it will come back to hurt them.

Adrienne Boggs, an educator with the Farmington Museum, will be at the monument for the Earth Day celebration to help people learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle. She said she will lead a craft project to turn old magazines into paper beads.

"It's our responsibility to take care of the planet in whatever small way we can," Boggs said.

Other presentations will include traditional dances and prayers by the Haak'u Buffalo Dance Group, an Acoma Pueblo group. Many of their traditions involve prayers for rain and maintaining balance in the natural world.

Hannah Grover can be reached at; 505-564-4652. Follow her on Twitter @hmgrover