Indian Pueblos of New Mexico
Experience the traditional Native American way of life
The 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico are the descendants of the Anasazi, who lived in the arid Four Corners region five centuries ago. Arriving from Mexico, Spanish pioneers found them living in well-defined communities and so named them ‘Pueblo’, which means ‘village’ in Spanish.
Today, New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes are spread along the river between Albuquerque and Taos, with a few to the west such as Zuni and Acoma. Many of the adobe buildings that line the dusty streets of these towns were built hundreds of years ago, and pickup trucks and TV aerials are often the only signs of modernity. Some villages are more traditional than others; many residents of Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo still live without running water or electricity.
Acoma Pueblo, the ‘Sky City’, sits on top of a sheer-walled mesa an hour west of Albuquerque. Perched 367 feet above the desert floor, it is a walled village of some 300 adobe structures, believed to have been inhabited since the 11th century. Only 50 or so of the tribe’s 2,800 members reside here year-round, but many return for holidays. The best time to visit is on September 2, the feast day celebrating this pueblo’s patron saint.
All pueblos welcome visitors, including during some festivals, which occur nearly every month. You’ll see traditional dances celebrating the harvest or the feast day of one of the many Catholic saints absorbed into the animistic Pueblo worldview. Although these are some of the most evocative scenes you can find, complete with colourful ceremonial costumes, chanting, drums and shuffling feet, photography or recording is usually not allowed.
A good place to start your exploration of New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, owned and operated by the 19 pueblos. It includes a large museum of Pueblo culture, demonstrations by Native artists and live ceremonial dances. Albuquerque also hosts the Gathering of Nations Powwow in late April, the largest annual gathering of Native Americans in the world. A kaleidoscopic event of swirling sound and colour, it brings together representatives of more than 500 tribes, including Cherokee, Pueblo, Sioux and Seminole, who arrive from across the U.S. and Canada to practise, teach and exchange tribal traditions. The three-day event features an Indian Trader’s Market, dancing and singing competitions, and the crowning of Miss Indian World.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.