Atop a steep, 367-foot sandstone bluff sits an age-old city known as Acoma Pueblo or Sky City. The gorgeous and historic pueblo is a registered National Historical Landmark in New Mexico.
Since 1150 A.D., Acoma Pueblo has earned the reputation as the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America (source). At the top of the soaring mesa awaits rich culture and distinctive Acoma art.
My crew of three (husband, son and I) joined a group expedition of 12 and headed up the pueblo in a bus.
Before tour buses climbed the paved road built by a Hollywood movie production team, the only access was by a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.
The visitor center tagged my camera with a permit and instructed me to not take pictures of any tribal members, their artwork, the graveyard or the mission.
The 250 dwellings at the top, none of which have electricity, sewer or water are constructed of adobe, straw and wood. Close rows of homes create narrow walkways and tall structures embrace square windows. The only color comes from the peeling paint of windowsills.
Our tour guide introduced us to each vendor we passed.
A laid-back younger man with long jet-black hair wearing a shirt that read “I hate you” sold intricate beaded pieces of art and jewelry that expressed stories within the patterns. He quickly grabbed a random bracelet and hurriedly explained the story behind the design having something to do with “fleeting thoughts as dreams.”
I was smitten by it all. The creativity of his work was untapped and brilliant.
Not having enough cash on me to buy anything, the artist cut me a deal on a small ornamented lighter cover.
Just up the same street, a woman selling pottery in the village unexpectedly presented a credit card machine as means to purchase her pottery art.
I picked out a dark turquoise, black and white pot that fit perfectly in my hand and had a tiny opening at the top. Thin, straight lines ran parallel and crossed each other to create a flower pattern near the opening of the thin pottery bowl.
As we walked through the mesa-top pedestrian worn streets, the loveliest looking Acoma I had ever seen popped out of his home. A sign in his window read: “$ for Pictures.”
I desperately wanted to take his picture but was too shy to ask.
Some Acoma people sold empanadas filled with fruit or meat on the dirt path. A man sold paintings that were noticeably influenced by his culture and had a similar style to Acoma pottery.
Dried up water reservoir’s remained scattered among the plateau, once providing drinking water for the ancient people.
Another mesa across the way, comparable to the one I stood upon was old stomping grounds for the Acoma. Archaeologists discovered artifacts confirming that people once occupied the flat stone for more than 2000 years, therefore concluding that the Acoma have continuously occupied the area since at least A.D 1200.
Our guide told the story of the battle of Acoma Pueblo, fought in January 1599 between Spanish conquistadors and Acoma Native Americans led to the deaths of roughly 800 native men, women and children during the three-day battle.
Several hundred Acoma survivors were enslaved or severely punished by having their hands and feet cut off and became forced to embrace Catholicism.
Three local men casually walked to a grave marker, hovered over and sprinkled what looked like grain over the monument paying no attention to our tour.
The mission graveyard was modest but profound in-depth, leaving people buried in layers on top of each other to conserve space. I mentally applauded their wise use of space.
We walked into the enormous San Esteban del Rey Mission, a Catholic mission, completed in 1640 under the Catholic influence of the Spanish is a Registered National Historical Landmark.
Pews lined the great, dark room against walls filled with the departed. Birds chirped over a vibrant altar made of hand carved wood. Native American-style swallows decorated the stark adobe walls.
The tour guide and native Acoma made it clear that his people always chose their religion first and Catholicism secondary.
The Spanish once forced the Acoma men to transport the four heavy alter pillars 30 miles away and 10,000 feet high up the mesa If one pillar touched the ground it was discarded and a new one fetched from the bottom of the mound.
Approximately 3,000 additional tribal members live in the nearby villages of Acomita, McCarty’s and Anzac.
The stunning Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum offer more insight on Acoma’s living history and culture through art and artifacts. In the Ts’ikinum’a Theater, visitors can experience Acoma’s history and culture through intriguing videos. The Yaak’a (corn) Restaurant serves native Acoman and New Mexican cuisine.