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Acoma families inhabit Sky City live a lifestyle that’s millennia old, and share the ancient story of the pueblo with visitors

MAP MASTERSitting high atop a mesa, commanding a view of the surrounding countryside, Acoma Pueblo has been a bastion for the Native Americans of the area for hundreds of years.

In fact, it’s the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, dating back to about 100 A.D., with some of the current adobe dwellings more than 400 years old.

And it’s also one of the most accessible of the pueblos as Acoma not only encourages visitors, but makes it an easy endeavor with guided tours, acomaskycity.org, said Melvin Juanico, group tour director for the pueblo.

Sculptures are pictured at Sky City Cultural Center, one of the attractions for visitors at Acoma Pueblo. (Courtesy of the Sky City Cultural Center)

Sculptures are pictured at Sky City Cultural Center, one of the attractions for visitors at Acoma Pueblo. (Courtesy of the Sky City Cultural Center)

The ancient site sits atop a mesa 370 feet above the valley floor about 55 miles west of Albuquerque off Interstate 40 and “for many years, has been a site of interest for people locally, nationally and internationally,” he said. “This is primarily due to the rich culture, tradition, and history that has been passed on for many years and is very well alive to this day.”

Only about 15 families live on the mesa top, which has no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. Those families burn wood to heat their homes and cook and use kerosene lamps after dark.

But its rich and tragic history is on display such as church portals remaining open for the return of the souls of children kidnapped hundreds of years ago.

An Acoma Pueblo resident walks by some of the many ladders that provide access to homes’ second levels. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

An Acoma Pueblo resident walks by some of the many ladders that provide access to homes’ second levels. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

In the late 1590s, Spaniard Juan de Oñate and his troops fought a bloody battle with pueblo inhabitants, forcing the survivors into servitude. The victors razed and burned the pueblo and survivors were forced into foot amputation.

Oñate was later expelled to Mexico City and the pueblo was rebuilt but in the late 1620s, missionary Fray Juan Ramirez forced the Acoma people to drag logs up the steep climb to build a still-standing church.

The Pueblo of Acoma is the 28th National Trust Historic Site designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the first Native American site to be so designated.

Visitors to Acoma Pueblo can see Native dances while touring. (Courtesy of Bettina Gordon)

Visitors to Acoma Pueblo can see Native dances while touring. (Courtesy of Bettina Gordon)

Any visit to the pueblo must include a stop at the Sky City Cultural Center and the Haak’u Museum at the base of the mesa.

“The center showcases the art and lifestyle of the Acoma people, with the unique architectural structure of the building,” Juanico said.

In addition to its many interesting full-time displays, the museum that is within the cultural center includes two just-opened displays. One details the history and culture behind moccasins, called “To Feel the Earth,” and the other, “Growing up Pueblo,” which is a look at the past, present and future of the Acoma people, he said.

Both the museum and cultural center are filled with examples of Acoma pottery and crafts from Native American tribes across the country, Juanico said.

For folks who like a different type of action, the nearby Sky City Casino is filled with round-the-clock Las Vegas-style gaming options from cards to dice to slots to games, said Kirby Juanico, spokeswoman for Acoma Business Enterprises, which operates the casino.

One of the rare treats for the sportsman is the opportunity to trek through Acoma’s 500,000 acres of backcountry in search of a trophy elk or other big game, acomagameandfish.com, she said.

“Acoma is known internationally for its trophy elk, which are some of the largest free ranging bull elk found anywhere,” Kirby Juanico said. “Some of the finest trophy bulls in the world come from Acoma. Spring or fall, bear and mountain lion hunts are also available by special arrangement.”

For more information call Janet Estevan at 505-552-9866 or 575-776-2919.

Guadalupe Winery near Acoma Pueblo was begun in 2000 with 2,000 vines. (Courtesy of Guadalupe Winery)

Guadalupe Winery near Acoma Pueblo was begun in 2000 with 2,000 vines. (Courtesy of Guadalupe Winery)

A more sedate pastime calls for a trip to the Guadalupe Vineyards, guadalupevineyards.com.

Tapping into the local history of grape growing in the region, where three original vines planted about 100 years continue to produce fruit, the Guadalupe Vineyards produce a trio of varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat.

The winery got its start in 2000 with 2,000 vines of hardy vinifera grapes that perfectly suited to the 6,400-foot elevation of the desert plateau and fed by the natural mountain springs of Mount Taylor.

The tasting room is open by appointment. Call 552-0082 for information.

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