Enchanted Mesa, New Mexico

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Photo credit: See The Southwest Illustration

Long ago, the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico built one of the strongest settlements in the Southwest high in the sky. It was located atop a sandstone butte 430 feet high, 400 feet wide and 1,250 feet long. The massive outcrop is comprised of Zuni Sandstone, topped by a harder layer of Dakota Sandstone that prevents the top from eroding away. Today, the butte is known as Mesa Encantada or Enchanted Mesa because of its towering presence above the plains. The Acoma people who lived atop the mountain farmed in the valley below, descending via a section of mesa that had broken loose — the debris made a steep but usable ramp to the plains.

Coronado’s expedition visited the mesa in 1540 and they were the first white men ever to enter the city. Coronado described the ascent as so difficult that he and his men were sorry they had climbed to the top. He went on to say that the houses were three or four stories high and the people were abundantly supplied with corn, beans and turkeys.

Sometime after his visit — no one is really sure of the date — a great storm rumbled across the land while the villagers where working the fields below the mesa. They took shelter but watched in fear as great torrents of rain fell from the sky and the access ramp was washed away. Acoma legend says that three old women and a young boy were left behind in the village. With the ramp washed away, none of the men could get back to rescue them. Then a great thunderbird swooped down and carried the four to the valley floor. Another version of the story says that a young girl and her grandmother were stranded on top when the ramp washed away. Rather than perish from starvation, the two leaped from its cliff walls.

Taking it as a sign, the Acoma people abandoned Enchanted Mesa and move to nearby White Rock Mesa, now called Acoma Pueblo or The Sky City. Today, you can visit the Acoma Pueblo and see how the Acoma people lived centuries ago. Many tribal members still live in the Acoma Pueblo (Sky City) and the nearby villages. While most don’t live in the ancient pueblo full time as none of the dwellings have electricity, sewer or running water, they do return for special cultural occasions, and the Acoma potters still carry on their centuries-old tradition of making finely crafted Pueblo Indian Pottery. In order to tour the Sky City itself, you must have permission from the Acoma Tribal Council and Tribal Administration, and daily escorted tours are offered throughout the year, except for certain dates sacred to the Acoma. It’s best to check the website for closure dates.

While the Acoma people welcome visitors to the Sky City, the mesa is considered a sacred mountain and not even they dare set foot on it.

Other attractions in the area include:
Albuquerque biological Park (Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden, and Tingley Park)
Bandera Volcano and Ice Caves
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument