Aztec NM Marks All-America City Milestone

On May 4, 2013, the City of Aztec will celebrate the 50th anniversary of winning the All-America City Award.  The award was given to Aztec in 1963 for building a 19-mile, two-lane highway from the town’s outskirts to newly constructed Navajo Dam, a $42 million federal project that was a major early component of the Upper Colorado River Storage Project. What follows is a description of the event and the history e-mailed to NCL by the city’s tourism and marketing supervisor, Chris Duthie.  The historical photos (circa 1963) are courtesy of the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village.

Building a 19-mile highway in little more than three months was an astonishing feat all to itself. Considering it was designed, funded and constructed almost exclusively by Aztec residents, businesses and neighbors – without government support – the deed takes on legendary status.

In fact, Navajo Dam Road/State Road 173 was built with donated equipment, material, supplies, cash and labor. School boys and girls raised road fund money by staging plays. Civic groups and local businesses organized fund raisers not unlike the war bond rallies of the 1940s. And a dedicated committee headed by Bonnie Walls served meals, snow or shine, to workers each and every day the work was in progress.

Approximately 3,000 volunteers – nearly three-fourths of Aztec’s population in 1963 – participated in this dramatic undertaking. When it was completed, President Lyndon Johnson sent a cable of congratulations, Look Magazine featured the project in its pages, the accomplishment was written up in the U.S. Congressional Record and, in lasting tribute, Aztec was designated one of only 11 communities in 1963 to receive the National Civic League’s All-America City Award.

As originally envisioned, Navajo Dam Road has served as an outdoor-recreation gateway to millions of travelers and vacationers needing quick and easy access to hundreds of natural sandstone arches; panoramic high-desert scenery; ancestral Puebloan ruins; the hiking, camping, fishing and water sports amenities of Navajo Lake State Park, which contains New Mexico’s second-largest lake; and the Quality Waters of the lower San Juan River, a U.S. Top 10 Fly Fishing Destination.

“I hope everyone appreciates the meaning behind those green ‘All-America City 1963’ signs on the city’s outskirts,” said City Manager Joshua Ray. “If not, we most definitely should. The National Civic League’s award put an indelible red circle around one of the most important events in the history of Aztec. We should all be so proud of and thankful for the monumental efforts and sacrifices made 50 years ago by this great community.”

To mark the occasion, the City of Aztec is hosting a “Spirit of ’63 50th Anniversary Celebration” at Tiger Park on Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The free event is scheduled to include an old fashioned ice cream social, entertainment, celebrities, dignitaries, and fun for the entire family.

The City of Aztec employs 129 people and serves a growing community of nearly 7,000 residents. Founded in 1890, Aztec is the San Juan County seat and is located in northwest New Mexico approximately 35 miles south of Durango, CO, and 180 miles north of Albuquerque. In addition to its expansive community parks and historic district, Aztec is renowned for its ancestral Puebloan ruins (Aztec Ruins National Monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), natural sandstone arches (more than 200 in the immediate area), mountain biking (30 miles of trails), trophy trout fly fishing (top 10-rated Quality Waters of the lower San Juan River), and water recreation (Navajo Lake and Animas River).”

For information about the City of Aztec, go online to


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