Understanding the wild west: Visiting a Native American pueblo

New Mexico, like much of the western US, has long been home to many Native American tribes who shaped the history of the region every bit as much as the white settlers and cowboys who came after them.

Around Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, you can’t drive more than a dozen or so miles before you see another sign pointing the way to a Pueblo that is open to visitors. Each of these can provide a window into the Native American culture, as residents are often willing to show visitors around and tell them all about the Native heritage. Two of the most fascinating and unique Pueblos in the area that are open to visitors are the Taos Pueblo and Acoma Sky City.

Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico
Located just outside the small, quirky town of Taos, Taos Pueblo’s claim to fame is that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. People have been living here for over 1,000 years, and it’s both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.

The main parts of the traditional structures date back to around 1000 A.D. while the walls, which are made of adobe, are continuously maintained by the people living there. Residents of the pueblo live just as their ancestors did – with no electricity or running water, cooking their food by the fire. They do however, have some modern conveniences. Watching an old woman cook fry bread on an open flame and then seeing her grandson climb into his dusty Ford pickup truck presents an interesting juxtaposition.

The Pueblo is open to visitors daily (though it occasionally closes for special ceremonies). Visitors must pay an admission fee plus a camera fee and guided tours are available.

Acoma Sky City, Acomita, New Mexico
Acoma Sky City is nearly as old as Taos, but located atop a 367-foot bluff, it’s a bit more visually impressive. As you drive down a narrow paved road, you see the mesa rising up from the ground, the small adobe buildings cluttered together on top.

Like at Taos, visitors here must pay a camera permit fee, but here they are not allowed to wander freely and explore – they must be part of a guided tour, which costs $20 per person. Acoma has been inhabited since around 1150 A.D. and also calls itself the “oldest continually inhabited” community. Like at Taos, the residents here live without running water and electricity, but the Pueblo here feels a bit more “ancient”. Because it’s on top of the mesa, you won’t see any cars near the dwellings so you can truly feel as through you’ve stepped back in time as you wander around the buildings and stop to shop for traditional handicrafts and art.

After the tour, visitors can get a more in-depth look at the history of the Pueblo at the Cultural Center, a state-of-the-art museum space. At both Acoma and Taos, visitors can purchase traditional crafts and baked goods from the residents, who rely on business from tourists to sustain themselves.

There are countless other, smaller Pueblos located in the area, but with limited time, I highly recommend visiting one or both of these.

Delta’s checked baggage fee to go up: A flawed, unfair practice

While browsing Wallet Pop, I found out that Delta is increasing its checked baggage fee as of August 4. If you don’t check your baggage on-line before you arrive at the airport, you’ll have to pay $20 for that first bag instead of $15.

Okay, people. Okay Delta, who I’m not too pleased with already, enough is enough. Here’s why I think that’s nonsense, and I’m a person who paid $55 total for checked bags without batting an eye. On our Great American Road Trip 2009 that involved flying to Albuquerque to rent a car to get to Montana and back, we checked one bag on our way there and four on our way back to Columbus.

The fourth was because of a flimsy wooden child’s toy bow and arrow set that was purchased at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. More on that in another post. Let’s just say it was considered a weapon by you know who. All four of our checked bags were paid for at the airport. The fourth was after I found out about the bow and arrow.

I didn’t mind paying the $55 one bit. I didn’t mind having to pack the bow and arrow in one of our carry ons and checking it last minute. (The bow and arrow was small enough to fit into a carry on. The arrow didn’t even have an arrow on it. It was a stick–a skinny stick with a suggestion of a point.That’s all I’m writing in this post about it, except this one more thing. Every time I look at it now that it’s home, I shake my head and say to myself. Dumb, dumb, dumb. And I’m not talking about the bow and arrow or me.)

But, I digress. Back to why I think the practice of charging more for a bag checked in at the airport is flawed. The assumption is that everyone has access to a computer when they are traveling. Or Wi-Fi. I spent a good part of vacation traveling for three weeks with a laptop without Internet access. There are places and circumstances beyond ones control. Here’s another aside. If you’re at the Telluride public library using the Internet –kind of–with your laptop, watching paint dry would be faster.

Here’s another truth. Not everyone has access to a computer at home either for that matter. My father doesn’t have a computer, for example. My father works at a place where you are not supposed to do personal business on company time. As much as it’s hard to believe for those of you out there in the world of Blackberries that aren’t fruit, not everyone is wired to the hilt. Not everyone wants to be either.

But back to baggage. So the assumption that Delta is making is that everyone has access to a computer where they can check bags on-line. I’m thinking about those people who can’t because of not having the equipment, or those people traveling under duress, like my mother has done twice this summer because of a family emergency. My mother has a computer but using it for things business related where you have to enter your credit card number makes her suspicious. Plus, under duress one isn’t sure what one is doing at all.

There are people like that who might just say I’m through with flying. I’ll take the bus or the train. I’m retired. I have time on my hands. Why not take transportation where I’m not nickel and dimed to death and treated poorly in the process-like cattle being sent down chutes to slaughter?

So, let’s say someone doesn’t have access to a computer. Or technology is something they’re not that great with. Or a harried family isn’t sure how many bags they need to check for that trip back home. Or whatever reason someone waits until they get to the airport to check a bag. There they are at the airport and it costs them more money.

Or there they are at TSA with their tempers up because they can’t take that jar of apple butter their grandmother gave them that they forgot about until TSA pulled it out of their bag (This happened to a friend of mine), or that souvenir snow globe or that bow and arrow set–the flimsy CHILD’S toy, on the plane, but they happen to have that carry-on and the time to check it. Air travel already gets people anxious. I’ve blogged for two years at Gadling and I’ve read plenty of stories.

In any of these situations wouldn’t it be better to have them be able to check that bag without being even more ticked off or more annoyed that they are trying to turn a bad situation better or be a good traveler by using the check-in kiosk themselves and it cost them more? We checked the one bag before we arrived at the airport in Columbus, but for the return trip checked all at the airport using the kiosk for the first three without any assistance, and the 4th one with the assistance of the check in person because she wasn’t doing anything when I arrived with the 4th bag. There weren’t any other passengers in line either. If the 4th bag would have cost $20 instead of $15, I may have said forget the bow and arrow, it only cost $7.50. The airline would have not made the $15.

Personally, I think airlines are becoming less and less passenger friendly and the people who are working behind the counter or in the airplanes–and that means flight attendants like our dear Heather, are trying to do their best to make flying on their company planes bearable. With baggage fee nonsense like Delta is adopting, flight attendants and check-in folks have their work cut out for them.

Delta is not ready when you are. Not anymore. Not if you’ve only managed to get ready when you arrive at the airport.

Oh, Northwest how I miss you and am not too pleased with your substitute. I can recognize the evil twin.

*By the way, there were four of us traveling, that’s why the last bag could be checked by me under my son’s name.

Naked guy forces Albuquerque landing

Keith Wright, a New Yorker (damn!) felt restricted by more than just cramped airline seating today. On a flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles, he ditched his clothing and did not respond (vocally, at least) to flight attendant requests to put them back on. The mile-high nudist also wouldn’t accept the cover of a blanket.

As a result of Wright’s defiance, the US Airways flight was diverted to Albuquerque, where the passenger was met by federal authorities. According to the FBI, he’s now in federal custody, with a charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. Once Wright got off (the plane), the flight continued to its planned destination.

Every story has a moral: you’ll have no problem getting a blanket from a flight attendant if you strip.

Itching to learn more about high-altitude nekkidness? Click here to get the bare truth.

In-flight system might find terrorists on passenger planes

Years ago, a good friend of mine once worked for a company in Albuquerque, New Mexico that created computer programs to simulate flight patterns of airplanes so that they could be used in military training. The programs were to help people to tell the difference between friendly airplanes and foe airplanes. I think there was a neutral category as well. The company gave an open house once so I learned a bit about how the system was supposed to work. The details are a bit fuzzy. I don’t know if the efforts were successful, but there were months spent on the project.

Spring forward to 2008. These days, the technology for tracking threats is narrowing down to the inside of an airplane. According to this article in New Scientist Tech, the Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project is one that combines surveillance cameras with “Big Brother” software in order to see all activities in an airplane. Is that person sitting next to you a friend or a foe? One aspect of the system is that each seat has a camera focused on it.

Things like: Just how long has that person been standing next to the cockpit door? What’s with the person lounging around between the galley and the bathroom? Are they looking to join the Mile High Club, or something else? That person in the left aisle seat of row J looks suspicious and is sweating buckets. Is that person just extremely hot or a terrorist?

The idea of SAFEE is that a surveillance camera system can alert personnel about a potential threat before the threat takes action. Because the system has the capability of seeing all parts of the aircraft’s inside, a terrorist can’t hide out behind a drink cart. (Except with peanuts not being served as cost saving, I’d say drinks will be the next to go. Then it will be, what cart?)

Critics of this system say that it will need to be tested on thousands of passengers before it is declared reliable.

I’m thinking that if the system doesn’t work after cameras are installed in planes, there is potential for a reality TV show. It doesn’t take more than belongings spilling out of an overhead bin and bonking people in the head for people to laugh from the comfort of their living room. Showing what happens in people’s seats with the right commentary to go along with the footage might be entertaining indeed.

More Persian New Year Fun

One thing I like about knowing when New Year is celebrated in other countries is that it gives me an opportunity to extend renewal. Like fellow gadling blogger Adrienne Wilson detailed in her post yesterday on March 20, this is the time of the Persian New Year. On my calendar it’s listed as on March 21 and is called No Ruz as well. So, in case you’ve fallen short of your New Year’s resolutions and Chinese New Year also passed you by before you could kick yourself in gear to resolve to do better, consider this as one more chance. This is spring rejuvenation time where house cleaning and family gatherings coincide with the Spring Equinox. It’s the time to rejuvenate by getting rid of whatever is ailing whether it is a messy house or sickness. With the other Spring Equinox celebrations going on in the world with the purpose of renewal and rebirth, it would be great, wouldn’t it, if all this spring cleaning and rejuvenation translated to world peace?

Given that No Ruz falls smack in the middle of the week, here are two other No Ruz events I came across this coming Saturday in addition to the ones Adrienne’s excellent sleuthing discovered. One is sponsored by the Iranian Cultural Center of New Mexico at the University of New Mexico Ballroom in Albuquerque and the other is in Sunnyvale, California. Both have a real party atmosphere attached and from the sound of it, great food. If you have a large Persian community in your city, my guess is there’s a celebration somewhere and you are welcome. Here’s a history of Persia, thanks to Albuquerque’s Persian community.

My cousin’s wife is Iranian, and I can vouch for the food-and the fun. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun at a wedding reception. Dancing on the tables hasn’t occurred at any other wedding I’ve been to that I can recall. I think I might call my cousin’s wife and say to her, ” No-Rooz-Pirooz ” Adrienne, thanks for the language tip.