When I traveled last year to the Grand Canyon and New Mexico, our favorite destination was the Acoma Pueblo. The Pueblo has always been on my bucket list because Ansel Adams (one of my heroes) took pictures there. Acoma Pueblo is the oldest continuously lived in Pueblo settlement, dating back from around the 1100s.
When we first drove through the boundary, we were greeted by these amazing rocks.
Although the pictures I took caught a lot of red, the landscape was breathtakingly white – almost like an alien world. Needless to say, it was striking. Acoma means “People of the white rock.”
First, we stopped off at the Sky City Cultural Center.
We set up our tour at the center and toured the Haak’u Museum. The museum was really state of the art, and helped us develop more knowledge about the Pueblos. Before we set off on our venture, we decided to stop off in the cafe to take a stab at some Native cuisine. I’d heard really great things about the Yaaka cafe, but had my doubts when I set foot in the door. The cafe looked like a typical museum sandwich shop, but I peeked at the chef and saw that he was all business. We ordered the Green Chile Pork Stew, and Red Chile Beef Posole with fry bread. The meal was delicious, especially the green chile pork stew. They had plenty of typical items like chicken tenders, and such for the nonadventerous and kids. To this day, I still dream about having another bowl of Green Chile.
The drive up to the mesa is only about 5 minutes or so. The road was a relatively new addition. According to our tour guide they put it in for a documentary.
The path up to the mesa (new road included)
Once we were atop the mesa, the combination of the blue sky and white buildings was almost blinding.
Our first stop was the church, built with slave labor. Now, it is not used for Christianity but is incorporated into native celebrations. Our guide told us they keep the building to honor their ancestors who were forced to build it. Inside, the walls were very high and the floor was dirt; the church was built in the 1600’s. You could hear the cooing of birds in the rafters – a surreal experience. Beside the church was a graveyard where photography was forbidden. To my right, there was a hole in the wall of the graveyard (small white crosses and stones with the earth buried in white pebbles). According to our guide, several children were stolen from the Pueblo by Spaniards who sold them into slavery. Because they believe their home to sacred, the hole was created so the little children’s spirits could find their way back to their homeland. This was the most moving part of the tour.
Our guide discussed strategies the natives used to hide their religion from the Spaniards. Having only one way to get up the 365 foot mesa was an advantage, and gave the Acoma time to hide what they were doing. Kachinas and kivas are important components to the religion.
Here is an example of a kiva – used both for ritual and everyday use. The Pueblo has no running water or electricity. Everything is done as in the past. Our guide pointed out that on feast days, they hike up the pueblo with tons of coolers filled with food:) Well, now with the road they don’t have to carry the coolers anymore.
Another kiva, with a view of a distant mesa.
According to our guide, Robert, he said that most Acoma believe they have lived there for about 2000 years. Legends says that they first settled on another mesa we could see in the horizon, but it was a disaster.
Some examples of pictographs, date unknown.
The ancient path down to the bottom.