Mid-morning on a bright and sunny late April day; Highway 84/285 turns into Highway 68 at Española winding through the Rio Grande Gorge. During a brief stop at the entrance to the Gorge’s Interpretive Center a marker informs visitors of this site’s significance: “In 1795, twenty-five families were granted land along the Rio Grande at Pilar, then known as Cieneguilla. The Battle of Cieneguilla was fought at Embudo Mountain near here in March 1854. A large force of Utes and Jicarilla Apaches inflicted heavy losses on sixty dragoons from Cantonment Burgwin near Taos.” Today it is difficult to imagine war activity in this tranquil setting.
We returnto the car and continue toward Taos, steadily climbing uphill. We are soon rewarded with open plains, bordered by mountains to the north east and the steep escarpments of the Rio Grande River.
The town of Taos is bustling with people and traffic, parking spaces are at a premium and no matter how brief your stay, parking meters are demanding their fair share of “income.” Boutiques, galleries, eateries, numerous museums and historical sights warrant ones’ full attention. Today the destination is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taos Pueblo. Paseo del Pueblo Sur becomes Paseo Del Pueble Norte and guides us 2.5 miles north of town, slowed only by red lights and pedestrians crossing from one side of the street to the other. Without a sign the dusty road, Camino del Pueblo, soon leads to the parking lot.
A brief welcome and directions to the admission center by local youth help in planning the next step. Admission is reasonable, $ 10 per person with $ 6 camera fee, no matter how professional or small your camera may be. And now it is time to enter these ancient grounds.
A free 20 – 30 minute tour with a college level guide provides just enough information to send everyone on their self guided walk about. I embrace the fact that it is shoulder season and not many people are crowding the village, providing stunning photo opportunities. The Taos Pueblo is populated by the Red Willow People who have populated this region for more than 1,000 years. The welcome sign says it all To visit the living village is to a sacred place where life continues from the earliest of human existence. Little has changed here in the high desert village. From the people to the pristine landscape, Taos Pueblo continues to enchant visitors old and new…”
These Adobe dwellings are over 1,000 years old. The walls are covered with a protective, fresh layer of mud twice a year to keep moisture out.
North Pueblo (above) and south Pueblo (below) are separated by the only (and original) water source available to the approximately 100 inhabitants of the village.
Red Willow Creek is the ancient water source that ties the village together to this day. Two narrow bridges connect North and South Pueblo into one cohesive community.
The Pueblo not only provides shelter for the small traditional community but also offers visitors an opportunity to browse the traditional crafts offerings. From jewelry to pottery and more traditional items such as “blessing sticks” and fry bread are available for purchase.
Below: The perfect activity for a sunny afternoon, a potter taking a well deserved break near the gallery entrance.
The bread ovens are used daily to provide nourishment for the Red Willow People and visitors alike.
The original Pueblo dwelling was accessed from the roof as a form of protection and fortification. Ladders remain in place today as a reminder and to access second stories. Note the updated version with bannister…
…and something a little more traditional below.
Here are a few more impressions, a small selection of photos I captured during my excursion through the Pueblo village.
San Geronimo Church was erected in 1850 and marks the youngest building in the village. Here ancient native belief systems and Christian values have been “married” and are celebrated every Sunday and on festival days.
Thick adobe walls support the high ceiling and provide the best insulation, cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
A carved wooden door leads from the court yard to the church’s interior.
The central altar figure or Santo is the Virgin Mary, which along with her other Santos were brought to the region by the early Spanish Missionaries. The Virgin Mary within the native religion depicts the parallel of Mother Nature. The outfits and draping of the altar are changed according to the seasons.
Stepping back in time visitors are kept out of restricted areas in both Pueblo settlements. The tour guide explained that the main reason for these restrictions are the Kivas north and south of Red Willow Creek. Below are two such Kivas that are still in use today during ceremonial days.
Moving across the southern foot bridge my attention is drawn to a small building. The empty modern table contrasts the ancient building and protective roof that doubles as a drying rack.
A buffalo head is placed on top of the structure for curing.
It’s getting close to 4:30 pm, the official closing time for visitors to the village. No visit is complete without stopping by the original church and “old” cemetery. The original San Geronimo Church was built in 1619 by Spanish priests and Pueblo labor. This sacred ground is a grim reminder of a dark chapter in history. The people of the Taos Pueblo were forced into Catholicism and slavery to become”civilized.” These conditions eventually led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In success of the revolt the Pueblo people of New Mexico lived freely until the subsequent reconquest by the Spanish in the 1700s. After its’ original destruction San Geronimo’s was reconstructed in 1706.
In 1847 , in an effort to overthrow the American Government, Governor Bent was murdered by Taos towns people and a few natives. In retaliation the US Army was dispatched to arrest those responsible for the murder. This resulted in the arrest and hanging of several Taos Pueblo leaders. Women, children and men gathered in San Geronimo’s Church seeking protection. It was set on fire by the Army ultimately killing many. The event marked the change from church sanctuary to cemetery.
The cemetery was officially closed in 2008. Traditional burials of the Pueblo people does not involve caskets. The bodies are clothed in ceremonial dress, wrapped and placed directly into the soil to become one with the earth.
The Taos Pueblo Village brought me closer to history. I know I will return for another visit one day. A sacred place like this deserves our support. It provides stories and glimpses into ancient traditions for future generations. I leave quietly and reflect on my journey into the past.