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.

Mardi Gras Museums: A break from the crowds

I’ve been to New Orleans twice, neither time for Mardi Gras, but to absorb the history, aesthetics, Cajun food and music after mornings that began with beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde. The Mardi Gras, although months past, did still hang in the air. Two museums are dedicated to highlighting what makes this historical, rich cultural icon mega party so important and interesting.

At Presbytere, once home to Caspian monks, the span of Mardi Gras history from the 1699 is told in themed exhibits. If you wonder how did all this frivolity start anyway, the answers are here. Floats, costumes, masks, historical background information, and interactive displays are geared for all ages. The museum’s Web site calls this a place that kids of all ages will like. The museum is located at Jackson Square in the heart of the city.

Another Mardi Gras themed museum is, Backstreet Cultural Museum located in the oldest African American neighborhood in the city. The museum used to be a funeral home. Today, among other items such as photographs and vintage films, it boasts the largest collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes which are elaborate treasures. The Mardi Gras Indians have a history that dates back to the 18th and 19th century when runaway slaves sought safety with the area Indians. The costumes can only be worn the year they were made. I’d be interested in going here because of the unique perspective it offers on both African American history and Native American history. Plus, the costumes in their feathered and beaded glory sound fabulous.

Other exhibits are dedicated to the tradition of Jazz Funerals and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. Gaining perspective on what makes life in New Orleans interesting and the traditions that have made it famous and unique can be had here.

Native American Day: Some Ideas to Celebrate

The 4th Friday of September is Native American Day. This year September 28 is a day to honor the first Americans of the United States. Here are some suggestions for how to commemorate the occassion. Stay tuned for more. I keep getting ideas, but this will get you started.

Read Catherine’s post “Native Alaskan Languages Not Endangered” for an interesting read about how languages are being preserved where she lives. There is a similar traditions of preserve languages by Native Americans in the Southwest. Here is a Web site dedicated to preserving Native American languages and culture.

Attend the San Geronimo Day at Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico. It’s on September 30, just a couple days after the official Native American Day, but Taos Pueblo is worth a visit anytime. There are festivals throughout the year at one of New Mexico’s 18 pueblos. Visitors are often welcome.

Visit the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. There are three locations. The Heard Downtown has an on-going exhibit about Native Americans in the Southwest. The Heard North has an exhibit on textiles and Heard West has an exhibit on Native American art and culture in Arizona. October 12-14, there is a film festival with films about and by Native Americans. By the way, for two wonderful films in this genre, check out Pow Wow Highway and Smoke Signals. For Native American Day, you could watch those.

For an alternative outing, plan to visit a Pow Wow where Native Americans from across the U.S. gather for dancing, celebration and competitions. The link has an map with the various locations. The photo by rromin1 on stock.xchange is from a Choctaw Pow Wow.