A peek into the pueblo way of life

Travelers who venture out of the New Mexican cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, or Taos enjoy what many refer to as "Indian time," a sense that community and the cycle of seasons and life are more important than the incessant ticking away of seconds, minutes, and hours.

The pueblos of New Mexico are a testament to this. There are no street names, most of the roads are unpaved, and the houses are not numbered. Bread is still baked in outdoor adobe ovens, and costumes worn for ancient rituals and religious ceremonies are painstakingly hand-sewn for each event.

Pueblo, the Spanish word for village, is a way of life for native Americans in the Southwest. Often referred to as Pueblo Indians, these people come from different tribes, but share one similarity - their stone and adobe houses. Today, there are 19 pueblo communities located in New Mexico whose inhabitants speak dialects of three distinct language families.

Each pueblo operates under its own government and therefore sets its own guidelines and rules. Local governments are largely funded by admission fees of between $3 and $10.

Travelers should stop by the visitors' center at each pueblo before exploring the community to check the regulations that might apply to them. Sometimes cameras, camcorders, and even sketching are forbidden in the pueblos. When those are allowed, permits can be obtained at the visitors' center and typically cost an extra $5 to $25.

While permits may allow guests to photograph the landscape and historical architecture, kivas (sacred pitlike structures used during ceremonies), cemeteries, and ceremonial dances are off-limits.

Of the 19 statewide pueblos, the northern villages are the most accustomed to visitors, and are easily accessible from the major cities.

Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, and Santa Clara are all within 30 miles of Santa Fe. Taos and Picuris are two hours from Santa Fe and three hours from Albuquerque.

Early risers departing from Santa Fe can make a day trip to the two most famous pueblos, San Ildefonso and Taos, and still have time to explore nearby Bandelier National Monument to learn more about the ancient ancestors of the pueblo people.

San Ildefonso Pueblo

This village, nestled between the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is located on the Rio Grande, so in the Tewa language, it is known as Poh-Wa-Geh - "place where the water cuts down through." Villagers can trace their ancestry back to those who dwelled in the cliffs (today known as Bandelier National Monument). When drought struck in ancient times, they moved to more fertile lands, settling the village of Poh-Wa-Geh in 1300 AD. Today, on average, 20,000 visitors come annually, primarily for the black-on-black ware made famous by Maria Martinez in the 1920s. Families selling pottery or other crafts post signs outside their homes indicating they are open for business. Call for hours and events, (505) 455-2273. San Ildefonso is located 23 miles north of Santa Fe, and can be reached via US 84/285 to N.M. 502.

Bandelier National Monument

After your visit to San Ildefonso, continue on N.M. 502 to N.M. 4, following signs to Bandelier National Monument. The 15-mile drive on long, sharp-turning roads can take as long as 30 minutes. Named in memory of Adolph Bandelier, a 19th-century anthropologist who was among the first to study pueblo life, this park covers more than 30,000 acres. A short path from the visitors' center leads to the most dramatic trail along Frijoles Canyon. Visitors can explore pueblo ruins and climb into rooms carved out of soft, volcanic rock, which are thought to have been inhabited from the 1100s to the mid-1500s. For park hours and information, call (505) 672-3861 (ext. 517).

Taos Pueblo

Taos, which means "place of the red willows" in Tiwa, is the northernmost of the New Mexico pueblos. Inhabited for nearly 1,000 years, it is both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. It is also the largest existing multistoried pueblo structure in the United States, made up of many individual homes that share common walls.

Originally the dwellings had no windows or doors to the outside; entry was through openings in the roof. There is still no running water or electricity in the historic section of the pueblo. While most families live in more modern structures outside the center of the village, they still gather in the prehistoric houses for ceremonial events. During the rest of the year, many of the buildings are used as bakeries and shops.

The Taos Pueblo is located on N.M. 68 in Taos. For more information, call (505) 758-9593.

New Mexico's pueblos

The 19 pueblos of New Mexico are the oldest tribal communities in the United States, having descended from the ancestral Pueblo cultures that once inhabited Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Bandelier.

1. Acoma Pueblo, known as Sky City, was built on top of a sandstone mesa 357 feet high. Location: 60 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40 at exit 102 and 12 miles south on Indian Route 23, exit 108. Phone: (505) 552-6604.

2. Cochiti Pueblo is known for storyteller figurines and ceremonial drums. Location: 22 miles south of Santa Fe on I-25 and another 14 miles north on N.M. 16 (between Albuquerque and Santa Fe). Phone: (505) 465-2244.

3. Isleta Pueblo was established in the 1300s. Location: in the Rio Grande Valley, 13 miles south of Albuquerque and five minutes from I-25 via exit 215. Phone: (505) 869-3111.

4. Jemez Pueblo is located among red sandstone mesas. Location: 27 miles northwest of Bernalillo on N.M. 4. Phone: (505) 834-7235.

5. Laguna Pueblo has been occupied since at least 1300. Location: 45 miles west of Albuquerque off I-40 and 31 miles east of Grants. Phone: (505) 552-6654.

6. Nambe Pueblo, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, served as a cultural and religious center for the Pueblo people. Location: 18 miles north of Santa Fe off US 84/285 and N.M. 503. Phone: (505) 455-2036.

7. Picuris Pueblo features a museum of local beadwork, weaving, and pottery. Location: 24 miles southeast of Taos via N.M. 68, 518, and 75. Phone: (505) 587-2519.

8. Pojoaque Pueblo includes a cultural center and museum that displays Pueblo art and exhibits, hosts traditional Indian dances on weekends, and preserves the traditional arts of the Tewa-speaking pueblos. Location: 15 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285. Phone: (505) 455-5044.

9. San Felipe Pueblo, founded in 1706, is known for beautiful dancing. Location: 10 miles north of Bernalillo off I-25. Phone: (505) 867-3381.

10. San Ildefonso Pueblo. See story at right.

11. San Juan Pueblo is home to the Oke-Oweenge Crafts Cooperative, which exhibits the art of the eight northern pueblos. Location: 25 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285 and five miles north of Española off N.M. 68. Phone: (505) 852-4400.

12. Sandia Pueblo got its name for the color of the steep mountains east of the pueblo, which Spanish explorers likened to watermelons, sandía in Spanish. Location: 12 miles north of Albuquerque off I-25. Phone: (505) 867-3317.

13. Santa Ana Pueblo is an agricultural community located on about 73,000 acres east and west of the Rio Grande. Location: less than two miles west of I-25, exit 242, 15 minutes north of Albuquerque near the intersection of US 550 and N.M. 528. Phone: (505) 867-3301.

14. Santa Clara Pueblo was established about 1550 when drought caused the residents of the nearby Puyé Cliff Dwellings to move here. Location: 1.5 miles south of Española off N.M. 30. Phone: (505) 753-7326.

15. Santo Domingo Pueblo is near the ancient Cerrillos turquoise mines, and its people have a history of making fine jewelry. Location: 25 miles south of Santa Fe, off I-25 at the Santo Domingo exit. Phone: (505) 465-2214.

16. Taos Pueblo.

17. Tesuque Pueblo may have stood on this site since AD 1200. Location: 10 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285. Phone: (505) 983-2667.

18. Zia Pueblo is situated atop a small mesa that offers a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. Location: 17 miles northwest of Bernalillo and eight miles northwest of Santa Ana Pueblo on US 550. Phone: (505) 867-3308.

19. Zuni Pueblo was thought by Spanish explorers to be one of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cíbola. Location: 35 miles south of Gallup on N.M. 53. Phone: (505) 782-7238.

For more information, see www. newmexico.org/go/loc/nativeamerica/ page/nativeamerica-pueblos.html.

Source: New Mexico Tourism Department

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A peek into the pueblo way of life
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today