American Indian Heritage
The culture that developed before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century is visible in both ruined and inhabited pueblos and in excellent museums that hold some of the region’s finest treasures.
Even if you’re visiting only one city on your trip, there’s a lot of Indian history to see in and around each place—but definitely try to schedule a visit around a dance ceremony, as this will give you the most memorable impression of the living culture.
If you’re serious about buying art and jewelry, you may want to time your visit with the Santa Fe Indian Market, which takes place every August and showcases more than 1,200 Native American artisans.
Otherwise, be sure to visit the gift shops at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe or the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to get an idea of prices and quality; you can also buy directly from craftspeople at the pueblos.
Use the city as a base for getting to know the culture, starting with a visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, with its excellent museum and café. All the other sights, though, are on the edge of town or well beyond. On the west mesa, Petroglyph National Monument has trails past hundreds of ancient rock carvings, while on the north edge, in Bernalillo, you can climb down into a ceremonial kiva at Coronado State Monument.
Mesa-top Acoma Pueblo is well worth the drive west of the city—along with Taos Pueblo, it’s the most scenic (and oldest) in New Mexico; you can break up the trip with a stop at Laguna Pueblo to see its mission church. You can also drive south and east through the Manzano Mountains to the Salinas Pueblo Missions, ruined villages that didn’t survive the Spanish conquest.
North of the city, the Jemez Mountain Trail runs through Jemez Pueblo—sure, the red-rock scenery is beautiful, but don’t miss the Indian frybread from the vendors set up in front of the Walatowa Visitors Center.
Rest up from your road trips at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Tamaya resort, owned by Santa Ana Pueblo, or Casita Chamisa in Albuquerque’s North Valley, which has a small ruin on its grounds, excavated by the owner.
On Museum Hill, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture are two fascinating exhibitions of arts and crafts. Then visit the excellent contemporary art collection at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, perhaps picking up some craftwork at the gift shop. Even Hotel Santa Fe, co-owned by Picurís Pueblo, showcases tribal art.
The pueblos north of the city offer more in the way of casinos than they do in traditional sightseeing, but the Poeh Museum at Pojoaque is worth a stop, and collectors will want to make the drive to San Ildefonso Pueblo for its stunning black-on-black pottery.
Finally, Bandelier National Monument is a must—this lush protected canyon was once inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people, and an easy hike leads past the traces of their settlement on the valley floor; a more difficult one takes you up to their cliff-face homes.
Head straight to Taos Pueblo—one of the most beautiful spots in the state, the organic adobe structures seemingly untouched by time (only seemingly—in fact, they get a fresh coat of mud nearly every year).
Also don’t miss the excellent weaving and pottery collections at the Millicent Rogers Museum. And to put it all in context, stay the night at Little Tree B&B, all built by Taos Pueblo artisans; the owner can give you a history lesson on the area, along with a comfortable bed.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition