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.

Instead of Utah as a ski destination, head to New Mexico

Let’s say you’re interested in boycotting Utah but you really want to ski at an affordable destination. Consider New Mexico. The mountains are steep and become packed with powder; the sky is blue; and skiing is near places worth heading to whether you ski or not.

Consider this: Santa Fe and Taos

I’m not saying that Utah isn’t a lovely state–It’s gorgeous–breathtaking even. Then there’s David Archuleta who is cute as a button. He’s from Utah. So are the Osmonds. But let’s say you want to boycott the state because it’s been suggested as an appropriate response as of late. (See Meg’s post.)

If you do think about heading to New Mexico for a ski vacation, here are details to tip your decision-making in New Mexico’s favor.

  • Lift tickets are $6 cheaper at Santa Fe’s resort than at Utah’s Alta.
  • Lift lines in New Mexico, in my experience, are not particularly long.
  • If you ski in Santa Fe, head to the Japanese onsen-like Ten Thousand Waves for a glorious soak in a private outdoor hot tub. Some tubs are located in the midst of trees that glisten in the snow and moonlight. This is a perfect stop after a day of swooshing down a mountain over and over again.
  • Santa Fe is a place to shop like no other. Friends of mine– who never shop, said they’ve never been to a place that has given them the urge to buy things more than here. Canyon Road is filled with galleries and stores that are the definition of eye candy.
  • The best folk art museum in the world is in Santa Fe. Head to the International Folk Art Museum for a visual treat and a reminder of all the markets you passed through in your world travels. You’ll possibly be reminded of that item you didn’t buy, that very thing that is in the display case in front of you–specifically an odd painted piece of pottery that is shaped like a chicken–kind of. It’s from Senegal to be exact.
  • A meal at Cafe Pasqual is fit for a weekend that’s meant to be special. This is fine dining with an organic, Old Mexican, New Mexican and Asian twist. I can’t remember what I ate specifically, but I was on a date with a guy who wanted to impress. He did. Fine dining doesn’t mean you need to get all gussied up either.

If you head to Taos, you can stop at Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited Native American town that is both an National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

What are the current U.S. World Heritage Sites?

If you look at the list of the current U.S. World Heritage Sites, one thing that comes to my mind is that heritage in the United States has a lot to do with its natural world. Even places like Mesa Verde and the sites of Chaco culture, on the list because of their cultural distinction, have a unique topography. Without the land being the way it is in these places, people may have settled elsewhere. You can’t have cliff dwellings without cliffs.

If you put the buildings on this list side by side, there is an interesting glimpse of defining characteristics of American history. Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, both designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Pueblo de Taos and La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site express some of the ideals of the United States, but also point to an aspect of the diversity that continues to create dialog today. Pueblo de Taos is one of the most interesting building groupings in the United States, in my opinion, and is central to preserving the distinctive qualities of the Native Americans who still live there, much like they always have.

Looking at this list, and then comparing the entries to the sites nominated for inclusion on the new ” Tentative List” is one way to see what’s missing to round out the offerings.

U.S. World Heritage Sites (with dates of inscription)

In a series this month we’ll be covering the 14 sites that now make up the new Tentative List.

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.