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New Mexico’s northern pueblos offer opportunity to experience native history

From the world-renowned pottery of San Ildefonso and the historic Puye Cliff Dwellings in Santa Clara to contemporary art in Pojoaque, each of the eight northern pueblos offers a unique opportunity to experience a taste of New Mexico’s native culture.

Each pueblo has a distinct artistic and cultural history. Some communities, like Taos Pueblo, offer regular guided tours to visitors. Others, like Nambé Pueblo, are known for outdoor excursions like hiking and camping.

One of the best ways to see the northern pueblos is to visit during a feast day when the public is often allowed to watch traditional dances.


Nambé Pueblo, a Tewa community 15 miles north of Santa Fe at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is best known for Nambé Falls, where visitors can take a 15-minute walk to the base of three waterfalls. Fishing is also available at nearby Nambé Lake.

The pueblo hosts a July 4 fundraiser with dances, arts and crafts, and food.

Nambé is also known for its micaceous pottery, which is mostly sold outside the pueblo, says Lt. Gov. Arnold Garcia.

Call 505-455-2036 for information. For the recreation area, call 505-455-2304 or see A permit is required for photos.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 for 16 miles north of Santa Fe, then east 2 miles on N.M. 503.

Ohkay Owingeh

Ohkay Owingeh is a Tewa pueblo about 25 miles north of Santa Fe, where Don Juan de Oñate founded the first Spanish colony in 1598.

Popé, leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, was from Ohkay Owingeh, formerly known as San Juan Pueblo.

Ohkay Owingeh is known for micaceous pottery as well as polychrome red and black pottery with geometric designs, says Vernon Lujan, director of the Poeh Museum in Pojoaque, which features artisan work from the six Tewa pueblos.

Ohkay Owingeh hosts a feast day dedicated to John the Baptist on June 24. The day features buffalo and Comanche dances and arts and crafts booths. For information, call 505-852-4400.

Ohkay Owingeh also hosts the annual Northern Indian Pueblo Arts and Crafts fair in July, featuring more than 300 Native American artists. For information, call 505-747-1593.

The pueblo operates the Ohkay Casino Resort Hotel on N.M. 68. For information, go to

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north of Santa Fe until the junction with N.M. 68 in Española. Then take N.M. 68 north for 4 miles, then N.M. 74 west for 1 mile.


Picuris Pueblo was one of the largest northern pueblos in the 15th century, according to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Its population now numbers about 300.

Picuris Pueblo, known for its utilitarian, micaceous clay pottery, has a feast day in honor of St. Lawrence on Aug. 10. Allday festivities include foot races, traditional dances, pole climbing and arts and crafts.

The pueblo also offers fishing at a nearby lake. Call 575-587-2519 for information.

Getting there: Drive through Española. At Dixon take N.M. 75 for 15 miles and look for signs.


Pojoaque, a Tewa pueblo, is known for its cream, buff-colored and red slip pottery, says museum director Lujan.

Archaeological studies show that people lived in the Pojoaque Pueblo area as early as A.D. 500, according to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

At Pojoaque’s Poeh Museum, visitors can see free artist demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer. Demonstrations include wood carving, belt weaving and moccasin making, says Lujan.

Visitors must call ahead to see the permanent collection, which features everything from sculpture and textiles to feather work. Admission is by donation. For information, see or call 505-455-3334.

Pojoaque also raises a herd of bison and visitors can call ahead for a tour of the range where bison live. Call Robert Herrera at 505-455-2278 for information.

Pojoaque Pueblo operates the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Cities of Gold Casino, too.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north of Santa Fe 15 miles and watch for signs.

San Ildefonso

San Ildefonso is world famous for its black-on-black pottery, popularized by the late potter Maria Martinez and her husband Julian Martinez. The couple demonstrated pottery making at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and sparked a revival of traditional pottery.

At the pueblo, visitors can see contemporary and traditional pottery by Maria Martinez and other artists, as well as paintings and other artifacts at the San Ildefonso Pueblo Museum. The museum is free with admission to the pueblo and is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For information, call 505-455-3549.

Artists also operate home galleries in the pueblo. There are fees to visit the pueblo for vehicles and photograpy. Sketching or painting has an additional fee and is only allowed with prior approval from the Governor’s Office.

The pueblo has corn dances in late August or early September.

For information, call the Governor’s Office at 505-455-2273.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north of Santa Fe 15 miles and take N.M. 502 west for 6 miles past Pojoaque.

Santa Clara

Santa Clara Pueblo, located between Santa Fe and Taos, is well known for its Puye Cliff Dwellings, as well as its red and black pottery.

At Puye Cliff Dwellings, visitors will learn from local guides about the history of the Santa Clara people, who inhabited the cliff dwellings between A.D. 900 and 1580, says Tina Whitegeese, assistant manager of sales and marketing at the dwellings.

Tours feature the remains of dwellings on the face of the cliff and those on top of the mesa, as well as the Harvey House, now used as a visitor center. Built by the Fred Harvey Co. for visiting tourists, the Harvey House at Puye Cliffs was the only one built on native land.

Puye Cliff Dwellings is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tours leave every hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the summer, artists and dancers will offer free demonstrations. For information, see or call 505-927-2731. Closures and special events are listed on the website.

In the pueblo of Santa Clara, visitors can see artisans at work in their galleries, says Whitegeese.

Santa Clara celebrates the feast days of San Antonio on June 13 and Santa Clara on June 12.

The Santa Claran Hotel and Casino and Black Mesa Golf Club also operate on pueblo land. Santa Fe Stables offers horseback riding trips from Black Mesa Golf Club.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north of Santa Fe for 24 miles. Turn left at Santa Clara Bridge Road, then turn left on N.M. 30.


Taos Pueblo offers visitors a sense of traditional life unlike anywhere else.

The people of Taos Pueblo have lived in the area for nearly 1,000 years. About 150 people live within the pueblo walls.

Most buildings in the pueblo, where electricity and running water are not allowed, were likely constructed between A.D. 1000 and 1450, according to the pueblo.

In Taos Pueblo, visitors can take guided tours from college students native to the pueblo, visit shops and see San Geronimo Chapel. The current chapel, a registered historic landmark, was built in 1850. The remains of an earlier chapel, built in 1619, are visible in the pueblo cemetery.

Taos Pueblo is known for its micaceous pottery and artisan work with moccasins, boots and drums, says tourism coordinator Jeannie Suazo.

The pueblo is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except during tribal rituals when the pueblo closes. For information, call the Tourism Department at 575-758-1028, email or see Prior approval and fees are required for painting, sketching and professional photography.

Taos Pueblo celebrates San Antonio Feast Day on June 13, San Juan Feast Day on June 24, Santiago and Santa Ana feast days on July 25 and 26 and San Geronimo Feast Day on Sept. 30. Corn dances are typically held in the afternoon, at about 1.

Taos Pueblo also owns nearby Taos Mountain Casino.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north, then N.M. 68 to Taos.


Tesuque Pueblo, a Tewa community 9 miles north of Santa Fe, is one of the smallest northern Pueblos.

The pueblo has existed since at least A.D. 1200 and played a major role in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, according to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Tesuque Pueblo runs a flea market from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, offering everything from African art to high-end jewelry and native pottery. For information, go to

Tesuque Pueblo also hosts feast days on the first Saturday in June and Nov. 12.

For information, call 505-983-2667.

Tesuque Pueblo also runs the Camel Rock Casino.

Getting there: Take U.S. 84/285 north to exit 175 at Camel Rock Road.

Pueblo etiquette

Always call ahead to make sure a pueblo is open. Visitors also should stop at the tribal office before entering a pueblo.

Some pueblos charge an entry fee and most require permits to take photographs or sketch. in some places, photographs are not allowed.

When photography is allowed, ask residents before taking pictures.

Bringing drugs and alcohol to pueblos is not allowed. during feast days, leave all cellphones and cameras in your car or they may be confiscated. During dances and ceremonies, silence is required. Do not applaud or ask questions.

Kivas and ceremonial rooms are not open to the public.

if a visitor is invited inside a pueblo home, he or she should wait to be invited to the table, take only a little food and not stay too long.

source: indian pueblo cultural center