Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo
Acoma Pueblo, NM

Acoma Pueblo, NM

Archaeologists believe that people have been living at Acoma (also called Sky City) since around the year 1150. When Coronado came through 400 years later, looking for the legendary Cities of Gold, he found thousands of people living in more than 100 pueblos along the Rio Grande Valley. Today only a few families still live in the original village atop the 376-foot high sandstone mesa, where there is no electricity or running water, but thousands of their relatives live in the surrounding villages, close to their ancestral home.

We were privileged to get a tour of the village from Brandon, whose family still lives here. He showed us the homes built of sandstone with mud mortar, in the old style before the Spanish brought in the Pueblo style of architecture using adobe.

Some of the buildings originally had windows made of mica, before glass was widely used. This is the last remaining mica window at Acoma.

Brandon showed us the ladder leading to the kiva, a ceremonial space common in pueblos of the southwest. Since the village can’t expand outward because of the limited size of the mesa top, some families are improving their homes by adding second or even third stories.

Natural hollows in the sandstone are used as cisterns to catch water from the infrequent rains.

The view from the viewpoint in the village is pretty spectacular.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Spanish sent expeditions to colonize the area, extract the silver, and forcibly convert the natives. The mission church was completed in 1640. The men of Acoma were forced to walk all the way to Mt. Taylor, which you can see here in the distance, to cut down trees for the roof beams, and carry them all the way back without horses or wagons. This type of mistreatment led eventually to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Spanish came back in 1692 and stayed around for two centuries. The number of pueblos gradually dwindled down to the 19 that remain today. One of them, Laguna Pueblo, we passed on the way from Albuquerque. Its San Jose Mission Church is one of the oldest churches in the US.

Without running water, sanitation has always been an issue for Acoma. Many people used porta-potties but the high winds here can blow them over and pollute the drinking water in the cisterns, so they recently built this new waterless composting toilet system with grant money. It collects rainwater, uses solar power, has a gray-water system, and the compost is used for fertilizer.

Acoma is known for its unique style of pottery and many other crafts. The artist and vendor in the photo is Brandon’s mom, and she is holding his adorable little daughter.

After lunch at the visitor center we looked at the museum and returned to our bus for another ride through the gorgeous New Mexico desert.

In the evening we met Daniel Diaz-Huerta, who shared with us his personal story of discovering his Jewish roots. Daniel has now traced his genealogy back to 15th Century Spain, and is in the processing of applying for a Spanish passport now that Spain has offered dual citizenship to the Jews who were expelled in 1492. Daniel is embracing his Jewishness, but it doesn’t come easily to many people who make the discovery that their history is not what they thought it was. His ongoing journey has caused tension among his parents and siblings.


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