On Walkabout At: Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

I have visited many historic Native-American pueblo ruins that are spread around the American Southwest.  However, the visit my wife and I made to the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico was going to be different from other pueblo visits we have made because this is a pueblo that is not ruins, but in fact an active Native-American community. Their village is constructed of mud adobe that are a building material used by Native-Americans throughout the American Southwest.  This adobe pueblo is located on the Taos Indian Reservation which is spectacularly backdropped by the Taos Mountains:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

The Taos Mountains features Pueblo Peak which towers over the reservation at 12,305 feet/3,751 m.  We were told during our visit by local villagers that Pueblo Peak is sacred to the reservation and that teenagers will climb it as a rite of passage into adulthood.  I asked if they allow non-tribe members to climb the mountain and I was told only tribal members are allowed to climb the mountain.  I was also told the tribe patrols the mountains and forbids hunting and camping without permission from the tribe.

Taos in their native Tiwa language means “the village” and this village is really old.  Taos Pueblo is considered the longest inhabited city in the United States, which helped it become designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

Taos was established roughly around 1000 AD and shares the claim as the longest inhabited city with the Acoma Pueblo located to the west of Albuquerque. Since I have visited both pueblos I did find it interesting that each pueblo does lay claim to being the longest inhabited city in the United States, but neither tribe recognized the other as sharing this claim.  Regardless of which city is really older the bottom line is that by North American standards, these are both old villages.  Besides being a UNESCO World Heritage Area Taos Pueblo has also been designated a National Historic Landmark:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

This animal corral that I saw when I walked into the pueblo probably looked quite similar to when the pueblo was established all those years ago:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

Being someone that has traveled extensively around Asia, visiting places like Taos and Acoma really puts into perspective how old many cities in Asia really are.  In countries like China, Korea, and Japan a city founded in 1000 AD would be considered fairly new.  For example Seoul, South Korea was found 2,000 years ago and it is considered a young city compared to Chinese cities like Xian that has 3,100 years of history.  However, like I said before, by North American standards these are some old villages.

Anyway as we walked into the village some of the smaller adobe homes at least from the outside looked like they had seen better days:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

But then we came to the Taos Pueblo Mission and this building was beautifully maintained and quite impressive:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

According to the Taos Pueblo website, this mission is called the San Geronimo or St. Jerome, Chapel and was completed in 1850 to replace the original church which was destroyed in the War with Mexico by the U.S. Army in 1847. The ruins of that church that was built in 1619 can still be seen at the pueblo’s graveyard.  That church had also been destroyed previously during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which was led by the Indians of Taos Pueblo.  St. Jerome is the patron saint of Taos Pueblo:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

I took a peek inside but there was a service of some kind going on so I didn’t take any pictures of the inside of the building:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

Approximately 90% of the residents of the Taos Reservation are Catholic, but just like we had discovered at the Acoma Pueblo, the Indians here still have many of the native beliefs that mix with their Catholic beliefs.  From the church we walked over to the main area of the Taos Pueblo.  The pueblo is divided into a North Pueblo called Hlaauma:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

And a South Pueblo called Hlaukkwima:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

We decided to walk over to the North Pueblo first, however on the way there we stopped to check out some of the nearby shops:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

These shops had a lot of nice locally made Native-American products such as pottery, beads, art, metal work, etc.  My wife and I actually bought a nice pot from one of the shops before we left that the local artist made sure autograph for us on the bottom of the pot.  We found the shopkeepers to be all very nice and very pleasant to talk to.  After checking out the shops we walked over to the North Pueblo:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

It has been said that this pueblo is one of the most photographed structures in America and with such a historically significant structure as this backdropped by such scenic mountains I can’t blame photographers for wanting to take pictures of this incredible pueblo.  It is said that this pueblo still looks much the way it did when the Spanish explorers first arrived here back in 1540 except for the windows and doors that were added for convenience reasons by the tribe.  I am also pretty sure that there was no coffee shops here to greet the Spanish either but my wife and I were both glad that the coffee shop was there to greet us:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

In these pueblos where there are not gift stores or coffee shops there are residential homes where approximately 150 people live:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

Due to the fact that this is still an active community there are plenty of areas closed off to the public to provide some understandable privacy for the pueblo’s residents:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

According to the Taos Pueblo website the pueblo adobes were constructed with earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks. The roofs of each of the five stories are supported by large timbers called vigas that are hauled down from the mountains. Smaller pieces of wood, either pine or aspen are called latillas and are placed side-by-side on top of the vigas; the whole roof is then covered with packed dirt. The outside surfaces of the Pueblo have to be continuously maintained with thick layers of mud to protect the pueblo from erosion.  Before the doors and windows were installed the pueblo rooms were only accessible by climbing ladders to enter a entryway on the roof:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

In the open area in the center of the pueblo village there was a small group of locals that were cooking and selling some Indian bread they were making in this traditional oven:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

My wife and I bought some bread from them and had a nice time talking to them.  They told us just older retired people and shopkeepers pretty much live in the pueblo now a days, which is similar to what we discovered when visited the Acoma Pueblo.  They also told us that most of their tribe live in modern buildings on the reservation because of the improved quality of life these buildings compared to living in one of these small pueblos.  They also said that many members of the tribe work in Taos because that is where the jobs are at.  All in all we had a nice time talking to these very friendly locals.  The people of the Taos Reservation have a reputation of being conservative and secretive, but my wife and I found them overall to be the friendliest Native American tribe we have visited yet.

As we finished checking out the northern pueblo my wife and I headed over to next check out the southern pueblo, but not before admiring this view over lush farmland towards the Taos Mountains:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

To walk over to the South Pueblo we first had to walk over a bridge that crossed Red Willow Creek:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

The water from this creek was incredibly clean and the local villagers seem eager to keep it that way since it is their drinking water:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

So they have signs posted telling people to stay out of the water.  In the rainy season this creek probably turns into a pretty impressive river roaring down this valley:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

The South Pueblo is not as impressive as its northern neighbor, but my wife and I still had fun walking around and checking out the structure:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

Unlike the North Pueblo, with this pueblo there was actually little back alleys you could walk around in and visit various shops:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

After checking out the various shops in the South Pueblo we then walked over to the village cemetery where the ruins of the old San Geronimo Mission discussed above is still visible:

Picture from Taos, New Mexico

After checking out the cemetery that completed our visit of the Taos Pueblo.  We spent about 3 hours at the pueblo and had an absolutely great time.  This pueblo is a part of American history that hopefully as many people as possible have a chance to learn about by visiting Taos.

Here is some administrative information for visiting the Pueblo:

Tourist Fees
Adult admission: $10 per person
Students (11 and up, includes college with ID) $5 per person
Group Rates (6 or more Adults): $8 per person
Children 10 and under: Free
Camera Fees
Camera, cell phone and video fee: $6 per camera
All professional and commercial photographers as well as artists interested in sketching or painting must apply for pre-approval; fees vary.

Interested tour companies, please call Taos Pueblo Tourism at 575-758-1028 for more information.

For those looking to learn more about this pueblo, the Taos Pueblo website provides plenty of interesting information about the history and even the current life of the Taos people that I recommend everyone checkout.

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