Rangers at Aztec Ruins National Monument checked NOAA’s weather report every hour in the days leading up to their annual “Evening of Lights” celebration on December 19th. Predictions of heavy snow and high winds grew more dire with each look. On the day of the event, school districts across the Four Corners delayed or cancelled school as the much-anticipated blizzard continued well into the morning.
Even as the snow fell, Aztec Ruins employees took to the parking lot, sidewalks, and historic adobe walls, clearing away thick powder and slush to make room for brown paper luminaria bags. As soon as the last flake landed, they began placing the bags for the evening’s display. The wind picked up throughout the afternoon, reaching a steady 25 mph howl right around the time they needed to light the candles nestled inside each bag. A dozen volunteers helped with the arduous task, and—eventually—managed to light about half the display, which was considerably more than most expected when the day began.
While the sun was still up, a hundred visitors poured in to see an ancient winter solstice alignment along the back wall of the main archeological site. After sunset, they returned to the visitor center to watch a brand new interpretive film, mingle, and wait for dark. The Friends of Aztec Ruins served hot cocoa and cookies to the thawing crowd.
When the last light of the sun was gone, 500 luminaria flickered in front of the visitor center and a dozen electric lanterns illuminated the archeological site. Visitors enjoyed a view of the spectacular ancestral Pueblo architecture under the soft lantern glow, reminiscent of the hearths that kept ancient people warm on nights like this 900 years ago.
Almost 300 members of the local community came to enjoy the evening. Next year, the park plans to light even more of the archeological site with lanterns, and employees have already brainstormed numerous ways to create more weather-proof luminaria bags.