From the 11th to the 13th century a community of pueblo people lived in a three story, 250 room pueblo just east of Farmington beside the San Juan River. This community, at what is now Salmon Ruins, was directly connected with the center of the Pueblo culture at Chaco Canyon, 45 miles to the south. The Chaco people watched the sky to tell time and designed elaborate buildings and ceremonies to celebrate their view of the heavens.
Today Salmon Ruins houses a community-based archaeological group researching the life of these ancient people. Their research and conservation efforts offer visitors a unique chance to come in contact with the mysterious way these ancient people. One such mystery was recently solved by archaeologists Larry Baker and Brooks Marshall, who searched out the real purpose of Room 82 adjacent to the tower kiva in Salmon Pueblo. This room was, they determined, a secret and sacred place.
After months of careful observation and experiments Marshal and Baker proved that Room 82 was designed to make celestial observations. A special opening high on the east wall let in a shaft of light to illuminate an “altar" just during the solstice. That “altar” was also positioned to catch moonlight, including the periods of the moon’s orbital movement in an 18.61 year cycle. During these special times, the room filled with a bright and mystical light.
This discovery highlights the exceptional knowledge Chacoan people had of the movement of the sun and moon across the sky - knowledge that allowed them to follow the seasons, predict the weather as well as providing a view into the wonders of the supernatural.
Salmon Ruins is a great resource for anyone interested in the culture of the groups once living in the Four Corners. It has a research library of nearly 5,000 volumes, many of them rare and out-of-print, specializing in Southwest archaeology and history and it has a huge collection of artifacts found on the site that have led to many discoveries like one just made by Baker and Marshall.
In the last decade museum staff working with staff at San Juan College have organized and inventoried the Salmon Ruins literary holdings and in 2009 received a Heritage Preservation Award from the State of New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee for their efforts. Much of the library content is available online and continues to grow.
Along with its museum and archeological sites, Salmon Ruins offers educational tours to students and professionally guided tours of Chaco Canyon and other custom tours of the region in a four wheel drive vehicle. Reservation must be made at least a day in advance.