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Kwastiyukwa ruins

There are a number of ways to get to Kwastiyukwa, none of which are easy.  We picked a long, nasty 4wd route and a short hike as the best choice for the day, considering it was going to get stinkin’ hot. Along the way we stopped at a rather modest ruin that goes by the name of FS 7 (or the equally descriptive LA 483….archaeologists are clearly poets). It was only 250 rooms, fairly overgrown and had some bulldozer damage from pothunters. We didn’t linger long, as we had bigger game to hunt. Notice my use of the work “bigger”?

Jeri and I have been to a great many number of ruins over the years, only a very few of which are being documented here. Some of them are piles of rubble and others, like those of Chaco Canyon, have an eerie breathtaking grandeur to them. But we’ve seen some pretty impressive sites. I have to say, this pile of rubble, hidden high on a mesa in the Santa Fe National Forest, rises to the top of our list of impressive ruins.

Certainly not for what’s visible today, as it’s mostly long mounds of collapsed roomblocks. It’s due to the SIZE of those mounds and the overall size of the site.  It’s for what this site WAS. It was immense.

An “official” count of the rooms for Kwastiyukwa totals 1,250 (Michael Elliot, the supreme chronicler of all things Jemez in the Santa Fe National Forest). This puts it fourth in size for Jemez ruins in the Santa Fe National Forest. Tovakwa is number one with a room count, per Elliot, of 1,850.  Other archaeologists, such as William Whatley, who worked directly for the Jemez Pueblo for a number of years and did an extensive Kwastiyukwa mapping project, puts the room count at 2,000 to 3,000. Having just recently visited Tovakwa, my unscientific gut reaction upon visiting Kwastiyukwa is “Holy crap! This place is friggin’ huge!!”, and I’d be inclined to go with Whatley’s estimate.

David Roberts in his book “In Search of the Old Ones” devotes a few pages to Kwastiyukwa and a visit he made there with Whatley.  Whatley is quoted as saying the pottery dates the site as far back as 1325 AD.  Whatley is also quoted as stating that this was the first major community established by the Jemez upon their arrival in the area. Roberts mentions that based upon the size of the rubble mounds the height of the roomblocks may have reached 4 or 5 stories, and for contrast notes that four story buildings would not be erected again in the US until the 1870s.

Dennis R. Holloway is an architect who has done some fantastic virtual reality work for the site. He took an aerial photo of the ruins and superimposed a 3D rendering of mapping work done by Whatley. Here’s the link to Holloway’s images.

There is a lot of confusion regarding the name of this place.  “Kwastiyukwa” supposedly translates to “place of the twin [ponderosa] pines”. The relatively few who know of it usually know it as this. But it’s also known as the “Giant Footprint Ruin”. Why? Well, there’s the official line of there being a petroglyph below the site that looks like a large footprint. Then there’s some who claim the site’s name really translates to “Place where the giant man stepped” and try to invoke some sort of Bigfoot connection.  This begins to veer into the sort of foolishness I’ve enjoyed for many years (all that’s missing are aliens). Finally the site’s remoteness in the early days of archaeological exploration caused it to be sometimes confused with the sites of Tovakwa and Amoxiumqua.

Jeri and I spent a lot of time walking through the site taking in its ethereal ambiance. It has a certain vibe we didn’t notice at other sites.  Maybe because it’s still a big deal to the Jemez and is one of their sacred sites. It certainly is a stunning location, close to a 7,600 feet elevation on a wooded mesa top, with views all the way to the Sandias and Albuquerque.  We were struck by the comparatively large amount of pottery sherd scatter, much more that other sites we’ve been at.

A little time was spent hunting for any sort of petroglyph that looked like a giant footprint, but we only found something that looked like a coffee cup.  So maybe the Bigfoot theory is right, after all?

Kwastiyukwa Ruins (From “Overview and Synthesis of the Archeology of the Jemez Provvince, New Mexico”, by M. Elliot, 1986)

A standing wall section at north end of site with timbers.

More timbers and roomblock remains

Jeri in the distance on a roomblock mound (Yes, it’s that big)

A panorama of the Great Kiva

Me in the Great Kiva of Kwastiyuka. As usual, I’m only good for scale.

A standing wall section off in the trees.

Jeri eating lunch at the edge of a small kiva depression. Shade is where you find it.

A panorama of the main site area, but this still doesn’t really convey the huge scale.

Typical pottery sherd scatter. The stuff was everywhere.

A possible petroglyph below Kwastiyukwa. Not exactly a footprint, but maybe a coffee cup? The dark spots are lichen, so the grooves are old.