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.

In the Corner of the World: In & Around Auckland

With a population of around 1.5 million people, Auckland is no bustling metropolis. Heck, it’s not even the capital of New Zealand (go ahead, look it up – I’ll wait). It is, however, the country’s largest city and the hub for most international flights coming into the country. For Americans flying from Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is their first taste of Kiwi culture (though not kiwi birds). While it’s a small city, there is plenty to do in and around Auckland if you know where to look. I recently made my second trip to City of Sails and was reminded of how quirky it can be and amazed at the natural beauty that exists just outside the the city limits.


If you’re staying in a hotel in Auckland, odds are you will be in the Central Business District (CBD). While this is convenient for catching buses to destinations far and wide, it’s not exactly an interesting part of town. You’ll want to venture out a bit to see many of city’s best offerings. Though, there is one downtown landmark that you won’t be able to miss.

SkyTower – Towering over the limited Auckland skyline is the SkyTower. It is part of the SkyCity complex of hotels, casinos and restaurants and will be your point of reference when navigating Auckland. While the tower is not exactly the apex of architectural design (it looks pretty much like Toronto’s CN Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle), it is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and its observation deck provides the best views of Auckland and the surrounding area. The SkyWalk and SkyJump will give you a boost of adrenaline as you dangle or jump off of the 192m high platform. Be forewarned, though, that these activities (as well as the simple trip up to the observation deck) are expensive and some – like me – may even call them overpriced.

K’ Road –
While Kiwis do a decent job of preserving Maori culture and language, when you name a street Karangahape Road, you have to assume it’s going to get abbreviated eventually. K’ Road is a bohemian boulevard 10 minutes from the CBD that is home to cafes, boutiques, restaurants and a thriving adult entertainment industry. While you’ll probably be solicited by a transvestite prostitute during your walk down K’ Road, you’ll also find some great thrift stores, cheap eats and fantastic people watching. And when a girlie boy tells me that I have a nice smile, I just accept the compliment.

Ponsonby – Thrift stores and trannies not your thing? Walk 20 minutes west of the CBD and you’ll find yourself in Ponsonby, an upper-middle class “suburb” within Auckland’s city limits. The boutiques, restaurants and nightlife in Ponsonby cater to a wealthier clientele than K’ Road but won’t break your budget. On Friday and Saturday nights, 20- and 30-somethings in their pointy shoes and tight jeans are out and about drinking and carousing. Many of them in outfits they purchased in the neighborhood earlier that day.

Waitakere Ranges & Piha – West of Auckland is a landscape that appears to be a world away from urban life. The Waitakere Ranges provide gorgeous hiking trails along streams, waterfalls and more tree species than I could ever hope to list. Meanwhile, Piha boasts black sand beaches and jagged coastlines cloaked ominously in ocean mists. Surfers flock here for some of the region’s best waves. If you’re without a car or eager to have an expert give you a lay of the land, Bush and Beach Tours takes small groups to the ranges and Piha for the same price as a SkyWalk. Definitely a better use of your money. And for you nerds, scenes from Xena: Warrior Princess were filmed there.

Waiheke Island – A mere 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke corners the market in quaint. It has no traffic lights. Only 8,000 people are permanent residents. And yet is has nearly 30 vineyards. While Waiheke is small, the vineyards are spread out (as is the nature of vineyards). Ananda Tours will gladly take you to several of the island’s wineries, art galleries or shops and set up tastings along the way. If you want to have a self-directed experience, I’d recommend renting a car and bringing it over on the ferry. But who wants to be the designated driver during a day of wine tasting?

Are you heading to New Zealand just to hang out in Auckland? Probably not. But odds are you will begin and end your trip to New Zealand in its largest city and it’s worth a 48 hour stay to explore, shop and get over jet lag. It has a wonderful mix of urban conveniences and natural beauty. Just don’t stick around long enough to become a Jafa.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.