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Published: August 15th 2015
Sounds like a Disneyland ride – Acoma Sky City. But it is, in reality, a pueblo that is the longest human inhabited site in the United States. We are zigging across the state. This pueblo is about 65 miles west of Albuquerque. Originally the plan was to hang out in Albuquerque for a day or so – do the Breaking Bad tour. Once we hit the city, we needed to leave. Nothing personal ABQ – we just wanted the open road and silence.
The Acoma Puebloans have found a great way to preserve their spiritual center which is known as the Sky City. They invite and allow tourists to be brought up from a visitors center in the middle of the reservation to the pueblos. If you have had the opportunity to read Death Comes For the Archbishop
, you may recognize the pueblo from some of the descriptions. The memory of Cather’s book left me with a sense of déjà vu as we walked the pueblo. But I digress.
The visitors center is located in a high desert valley that is a beautiful flat grassland dotted with enormous stone monoliths – each significant to the stories of the Acoma. The drive in to the visitors center is beautiful but it does not prepare you for what waits on the pueblo. The pueblo is built on a mesa that is 300+ feet above the valley floor. The Acoma who remain living on the pueblo are the elders and the spiritual leaders of the tribe. Most of the young members live north of the pueblo on the valley floor. The walk around the pueblo is on rough and uneven cobbles, native artists and artisans hawk their wares and many of the dwellings are worked on as you visit. New layers are being added to protect the adobe, constant roof work, painting. Their big feast day , the feast day of St Stefan, is approaching and so much work is going on to spruce up the exteriors. There is no running water and no electricity is allowed. This is a spiritual home and some humans happen to live there. There are staggering 360 degree views from every lands edge of the mesa. It seemed we could see to Arizona to the west, Texas to the east and Colorado to the north.
Our guide has interesting stories to tell and I am waiting for her to tell us the stories of how they used the plateau edge for executions, shows of power and threats of bodily harm. So, I am left wondering who to believe – Willa Cather or our Acoma guide. Her story of the genesis of the tribe is interesting, the Acoma (and apparently many of the Puebloans) believe that it was only the Navajo – whom they scathingly refer to as apaches – that came over the land bridge from Asia. I think that recent genomics disprove this theory, but I am a guest so I don’t press it. As we progress on this trip, I will be surprised again and again with the emotion that the Navajo stir up.
After Acoma Sky City we headed to El Malpais National Monument driving on sections of the mother road – Route 66. Fantastic to travel just 10 mph slower than the interstate. Beautiful old railway underpasses that make you wonder how cars of the mid-century vintage could fit on the road as they passed each other going east and west. Gentle curves that follow the contours of the land – they didn’t blast through to make a straight, 6 lane line.
El Malpais is a place where the rock formations are the calling card. After a quick stop at the visitors center we headed to the natural bridges and then on to Joe Skeen Campground. What we found when we got there were mosquitoes – oh so many mosquitoes. Decided to forge on to Grants, NM for the night. Found a nice campground but the mosquitoes were deadly. We could not get in and out of doors fast enough. Grants itself is a sad artifact of the change from Route 66 to Interstate 40. Just 1 mile off the interstate and it proved too much for the hotels, motels and restaurants that had depended on the mother road for sustenance. Now it’s a broken down shadow of its former self.
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