Acoma

Overview

Introduction

New Mexico has many pueblos, but this ancient settlement is one of the most stunning. Known also as Sky City, it sits majestically on a high mesa. Acoma is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the U.S.—it may have been built in the mid-1100s, and it was definitely there when Coronado arrived in 1540. After the Spanish colonized the area, the simple, graceful San Esteban del Rey Mission was built on the mesa between 1629 and 1640.

If you're going to Acoma, you must register at the visitors center at the base of the mesa. An Acoma guide will escort you to the top of the mesa in a shuttle bus and then take you through the maze of streets where potters display their distinctive clayware—it's white with intricate geometric patterns. The tour costs a few dollars, and there's an additional fee if you want to use your camera (don't try to take photographs without paying the fee). When walking the streets, don't stray into the residential areas—they are off-limits to visitors. You can leave Acoma by descending the steps and handholds carved in the cliffside. The pueblo is open daily except for 10-13 July and the first or second weekend in October.

On your way into or out of Acoma, you'll see Enchanted Mesa rising 430 ft/174 m above the plain. It's called Katzimo, "the accursed," by the Acomans: According to one legend, it was their home until a flood washed away paths up the steep walls. You'll also see the tribe's Sky City Casino, which sits right at the exit off Interstate 40. Don't let the lofty name mislead you: It's on the low ground and looks much like a truck stop. 60 mi/100 km west of Albuquerque.

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