No trip to New Mexico is complete without a visit to at least one of the state's 19 Native American pueblos. Although they are centuries-old dwelling sites, they are also modern communities whose residents deal with modern issues. One of those issues is gambling: In addition to the attractions that focus on traditional culture, many of the pueblos operate gaming casinos—complete with entertainment and high-stakes play.
Perhaps the best introduction to the pueblos can be found at two of the state's better museums, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe (the majority of pueblos are fairly close to these two major cities). Both museums will give you a good introduction to pueblo beliefs and history, as well as demonstrate the varied craftsmanship of both ancient and modern Native Americans.
One of the more fascinating aspects of visiting the pueblos is learning about the particular traditions that have shaped the techniques and styles of local craftwork. If you can visit a pueblo on its feast day (usually tied to a Catholic saint—a remnant of Spanish colonialism), the dances and ceremonies will only heighten your appreciation of the communities.
In addition to the Acoma and Taos pueblos, consider the following:
Cochiti, southwest of Santa Fe, is famed for finely crafted ceremonial drums and "storyteller" figurines. Don't miss the Tent Rocks, a spectacular canyon and geological formation near the pueblo. Its feast day is that of San Buenaventura, held on 14 July.
Isleta, just south of Albuquerque, is the largest of the Tiwa-speaking pueblos. The feast days of St. Augustine are celebrated there on 28 August and 4 September.
Jemez, northwest of Albuquerque, is the only tribe that still speaks the Towa language. You'll find a number of recreational areas open to the public, as well as offerings in sculpture and polychrome pottery. The Feast of Our Lady of the Angels is held on 2 August.
Laguna, on the eastern border of the Acoma reservation, is actually six villages where residents produce pottery resembling that of the Acoma Pueblo. The feast of St. Joseph is observed on 19 September.
Nambe, north of Santa Fe, is known for its exquisite jewelry, employing turquoise and silver, but you'll also find sculpture, beadwork and micaceous pottery (containing flecks of mica that cause the pottery to glitter in the light). Nambe celebrates the Feast of St. Francis on 4 October.
Picuris, southwest of Taos, was a hotbed of resistance during the pueblo revolt of the 1600s. Today, it's known for its micaceous pottery. The Mission of San Lorenzo, whose feast day is celebrated on 10 August, is located there.
The craftspeople of Pojoaque, northwest of Santa Fe, produce pottery, embroidery, jewelry and beadwork. The Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque tells the story of the Rio Grande Pueblos. They celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December. The Poeh Museum features the story of the Native world from the Native American perspective in one of the few tribal-run museums in the country.
Sandia, just north of Albuquerque, operates the Bien Mur Indian Market Center, one of the better places to shop for Native American crafts in New Mexico. The Feast of St. Anthony is held on 13 June.
San Felipe, which is north of Albuquerque, produces fine beadwork and heishi (jewelry made from strings of small tiles of semiprecious gems). The feast day of St. Phillip is celebrated on 1 May.
San Ildefonso, northwest of Santa Fe, is a complex of some 200 buildings, including a reconstructed church from the 1600s. This pueblo was the home of Maria and Julian Martinez, who were famous for their rendering of the distinctive black-on-black pottery. (The Martinez family continues the tradition.) The Feast of San Ildefonso occurs on 23 January.
Among the 700-year-old buildings of San Juan, also northwest of Santa Fe, you'll find the headquarters of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, which includes Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos and Tesuque. The council publishes an excellent guide to the northern pueblos (write ENIPC, P.O. Box 969, San Juan Pueblo, NM 87566). It's home to the O'ke-Oweenge Crafts Cooperative, featuring crafts from each of the eight pueblos (San Juan itself is known for redware pottery). The Feast of San Juan is held on 24 June.
Santa Ana Pueblo is known not only for its polychrome pottery but also for the recreational offerings available at the Santa Ana Golf Course and Jemez Canyon Dam. The pueblo itself is open to the public only a few days each year—one of the best times to visit is on the Feast of Santa Ana—26 July.
Santa Clara, another of the northern pueblos, is known for both black-on-black and redware pottery. The Santa Clara Recreation Area (with streams, lakes and trails) and the impressive Puye Cliff Dwellings, which date back to AD 1250, also are nearby. The cliff dwellings are a national landmark owned and maintained by the pueblo: You can explore dwellings both along and atop a cliff face. Self-guided tours are available, and in summer, you can take guided tours that include a pueblo feast (book at least five days in advance). The Feast of St. Claire is on 12 August.
Santo Domingo, north of Albuquerque, is known for jewelry, silverwork and heishi. Its feast day is held on 4 August. It also hosts a popular arts-and-crafts festival on Labor Day weekend.
Tesuque is the smallest of the villages where the Tewa language is spoken. It is located just outside Santa Fe. The craftspeople there are known for rain-god figurines, micaceous pottery, sculpture and painting. The Feast of San Diego is celebrated in Tesuque on 12 November.
The traditions of Zia Pueblo have contributed to the state's symbol, the stylized sun you'll see all over New Mexico. Zia is also known for its polychrome pottery. The Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption is held on 15 August.
The original Zuni Pueblo was the largest in the region when the Spanish arrived, and its size probably helped inspire the myth of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola—the tale that inspired Francisco Coronado to explore the area. The inhabitants abandoned their original pueblo in 1670, but you can still visit it with a Zuni guide. Today, the Zuni people are known for stonework, jewelry, needlepoint and fetishes (animals carved out of stone and semiprecious gems). Shalako, the most important Zuni feast, occurs in late November-early December.
Other Native American groups in New Mexico include the Jicarilla Apache of northern New Mexico, who are highly regarded for their basketry and beadwork; the Mescalero Apache of southern New Mexico, who own and operate the Ski Apache ski area and the Inn of the Mountain Gods resort near Ruidoso; and the Navajo people, famous for their rugs and silverwork.
Please remember that the pueblos are not theme parks or living-history museums—they are real communities, where families live and work. Their requests for a few basic standards of behavior are reasonable and easily observed. Do not photograph or videotape residents of the pueblos unless you have first obtained permission from the pueblo's administrative offices. There is sometimes a small fee involved. There may be certain ceremonial occasions when cameras (even sketchbooks) are not allowed at all. It's a good idea to call in advance of your visit to confirm the hours that the pueblo is open to visitors: They sometimes close for special religious occasions or for funerals of tribal members, and most ask visitors to leave by around sund
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