Taos Pueblo

Written by on March 9, 2016 in NM History & Heritage - Comments Off on Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over a 1,000 years. Nestled in the foothills of the Taos Mountains, the pueblo has an astonishing view of Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,161), the highest peak in New Mexico, and is well worth visiting if you are coming to the Southwest. It is the only place in the world where you will capture the spirit of a Native American people, who have lived in the same location for generation upon generation.

While ancestors of the modern Taos Indian people have lived in the valley for at least 1,000 years and probably much longer, they were nomadic people, following the herds and gathering food seasonally until around 1,000 A.D. Then they began construction of a large, multi-story complex. Construction continued until around 1,400 A.D. Taos Pueblo is five stories high and contains more than 600 rooms. The Rio Pueblo River runs through the middle of the complex, so it is divided into north (Hlauuma) and south (Hlaukwima) units. The complex was a major trade center between the Taos people and the Plains Indians. It was also the center of religious activity for the entire region.

Taos Pueblo is made of adobe — earth mixed with water and straw and then poured into forms or patted into sun-dried bricks. The walls are several feet thick in most places. Each story is terraced back about 15 feet from the story below. The roofs are supported by large timbers that were hauled down from the mountain forests, while smaller pieces of wood were placed side by side on top of the timbers and the whole was covered with packed dirt and then plastered with thick layers of mud. The rooftops were common areas where food, clothing and utensils were prepared and created. Most of the sleeping rooms were accessed via holes on the roof and had few windows and no connecting doorways.

The main part of Taos Pueblo looks much as it did when it was built 900 years ago. Some of the structures have been altered, adding windows and doors to many of the rooms. However, it still has no electricity or running water. Approximately 150 people live within the Pueblo full time, while other families have more modern homes nearby. There are over 1,900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands. Even if the bulk of the Taos Tribe don’t live in the Pueblo year-around anymore, they still return for religious ceremonies frequently.

The Taos people practice Roman Catholicism which has been merged with other sacred beliefs. For instance, dances celebrating the buffalo are interspersed with dances honoring the Virgin Mary. Please keep in mind the Taos people take their privacy seriously. Their rituals are sacred and private and cameras are forbidden. Please respect their right to privacy as you would during a solemn service in your home church.

The tribe supports itself through tourism, which means the Taos Pueblo is open daily to visitors, except for special ceremonial dates. The Pueblo also closes for about 10 weeks in late winter or early spring. Please call ahead to check and see if the Pueblo is open on the day you intend to visit. Normal operating hours when the Pueblo is open are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

When you do visit, many of the rooms in the Pueblo have been turned into curio and art shops. You can find a wide variety of traditional goods for sale including arts, traditional crafts and foods. The Taos Indians are proud of their Micaceous pottery (brown with mica flakes baked into it) as well as their silver jewelry. They are also famous for leather craft – creating high quality moccasins, boots and drums. In addition, the latest generation is developing a modern artistic flair that combines traditional Taos Indian motifs with more modern expressions.

The Taos Tribe is a sovereign nation within the United States. It still has a tribal governor and war chief, and a tribal council consisting of 50 tribal elders. The tribal governor takes care of civil and business issues, while the war chief deals with protection of the mountains and Indian lands outside the Pueblo walls. In 1970, the tribe and the war chief won a major battle with the government of the United States. The government had taken a huge chunk of land in 1906 to add it to the National Forest Lands. However, the lands and Blue Lake in particular were sacred. So the tribe fought a long battle to protect it and see it returned to tribal care. In 1970, the U.S. government conceded and returned 48,000 acres of the mountain, including sacred Blue Lake, to the care of the tribe.

When visiting Taos Pueblo, please keep in mind that you are visiting someone’s home! Please respect the restricted areas signs as these mark the locations of residents as well as ceremonials rooms. Please do not take photos of members of the tribe without asking permission, and be aware that photography is restricted in some areas of the Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo
PO Box 1846
Taos, NM 87571
Phone: 575-758-1028

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