Saturday, October 11, 2014

Acoma Sky City Pueblos

You can't go to the Southwest without stopping by to see some of the beautiful desert landscape and native populations that are so entwined in the social fabric and culture of New Mexico.

So when my mother said she really wanted to see "the locals," my father did some quick research after we came back from the Saturday morning Mass Ascension, and found Frommer's Guide to Albuquerque online.

There he found out that the two most prominent pueblos to visit were Acoma Sky City and Taos. Fortunately, we didn't have to stress about which one to pick, because geography decided for us. Acoma was about 75 minutes southwest of Albuquerque, while Taos was a good 2.5 hour drive northeast.

Acoma Pueblo was unique because it was (a) actually located on the top of a tall rocky mountain structure and (b) an active community with local Acoma people living there. That definitely sounded like something we'd love to see while we were in New Mexico.

Doing some quick internet research, we realized that to visit Acoma Pueblo, you needed to take an official tour offered by the Sky City Cultural Center. They had a tour every hour at the bottom of the hour except for certain days when they were closed.  Fortunately, they were open that Saturday, so we decided to take off at 11AM and try to make the 12:30PM tour.

Driving west on Route 40, we realized that we were actually on the famous and historic Route 66 (which was incorporated by more modern highways such as Route 40). After we took Exit 102, we stopped by the gas station to pick up some bottles of water.

Keep in mind that you're out in the sun in a remote place. Since it can get pretty hot, you definitely want to stock up on some water and snacks at this intersection because it's the last one before you get to the Cultural Center where they will charge you premium prices for the convenience of staying on site.

Then we got back on the road leading south and started to see some of the massive plateaus and rock formations. It's a very long and straight stretch of road, so you can go pretty fast, but just remember to enjoy the stunning scenery. That being said, we were coming up on 12:15PM and the tour was leaving at 12:30PM so we did have to hustle.

After a while, you will come to the intersection where you will see the Cultural Center. There was plenty of parking, so my mother hopped out of the car and went inside to buy tickets ($23/adult) while my father parked the car.

By the time he and I arrived inside (around 12:20PM), they were already sold out of the 12:30PM tour. We had to wait until the next tour at 1:30PM. Not a huge deal, but the tour does take about 90 minutes, so we wouldn't finish until 3PM - at the earliest.

Then we'd have a 75 minute drive back to our hotel in Albuquerque, arriving into town around 4:30PM, right as the Fiesta traffic was going to start for Saturday night's Twinkle Glow.

With nothing that could be done, my parents just sat down at the on site restaurant and ordered a light lunch to pass the time. My mother ordered some chips and guacamole while my father ordered the red hatch chile stew. For $7, it was pretty tasty bowl of beef stew, but nothing he would crave weeks later.

Soon enough, it was 1:30PM and the tourists gathered around outside by the statue as a small bus pulled up.

The group was clearly an older retiree crowd. My parents were clearly the youngest people on the tour (besides me of course). We all boarded the first of several buses that took us up the mountain on a paved road.

We had a tour guide with very effeminate mannerisms and make up. That being said, we also weren't quite sure if the guide wasn't actually a female with masculine facial features. It was a bit confusing until he/she told us to call him/her Jade, though we didn't really care either way. Our primary gripe with the guide was that many of group's questions were addressed with a brief "Oh, yes" or "No." Not exactly Rick Steves there.

When we arrived atop the mountain, we saw the residential structures. The community had about 100 people living there year round and chose to live without running water or electricity. Their buildings were made from clay and straw, though some were made of stone. It really reminded me of the Three Little Pigs story my father reads me at bedtime.

The story of the Acoma people can be read here, so I won't go into too much detail. We were just so curious to see how this community lived in such a remote location in a such a traditional way. I mean, they actively engaged in the "American" community outside their pueblo (school and work), but still chose to come back home each night here atop this mesa without any fresh water or electricity. They would have to travel down the mountain to get all their supplies, including food and water.

Unfortunately, I didn't find anything I really wanted to buy from the locals selling their handmade crafts, but I did pick up a few choice pebbles on the ground that I took home as souvenirs.

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