City in the Sky

Mom's favorite Acoma view
I stopped at this area to take a picture of the distant cliffs between two adobe and stone houses. My Aunt told me “That’s your mom’s favorite spot!” So I painted this for my mom and gave it to her for Christmas. When she opened it she exclaimed “This is my favorite view at Acoma!’ I smiled and said “I know.”

We got down from the Sandia Peak a couple of hours after the scare with the little boy. The mountain was drenched, but way below, Albuquerque was dry!

The next day we were up early again. I needed to get back to Clovis. I was spending another night with John-Dad, then heading North again.

Before she let me leave, my Aunt had one more awesome trip planned for us. We were going to Acoma! So we headed west on I-40, to Highway 23. Then we drove south through the desert, flanked by mesas, plateaus, and distant mountains.

lonely city
Lonely City, Acoma

Atop a three-hundred-foot tall mesa sat a glistening city. The Acoma Pueblo “Sky City” is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the United States. The Acoma people have lived here for at least 800 years, though tribal tradition tells us that  it’s been 2000 years!

There’s a welcome center on the desert floor below the Sky City mesa. Here, you pay to join the next tour, pay to register a camera, and get a list of rules and respectful practices. Your camera’s registration tag must be clearly visible while at Sky City. You are allowed to take pictures only from your registered camera, and only of the buildings and surrounding areas. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the cemetery walls, or the Mission San Esteban Rey church. You are also not allowed to take pictures of the people without their permission, or any art you may see. You can’t use your registered camera to take video or audio.

And though Sky City is dotted with portable toilets since there is no plumbing, you are not allowed to use them. You must use the restrooms at the visitor’s center before you start the tour.

We boarded the tour bus and were greeted by a short, dark man who invited us to call him ‘Turtle’. The bus took us to the top of the mesa and dropped us off. We were standing among some ancient buildings! Turtle took us on a walking tour and gave us some history through the eyes of a beautiful culture.

In the 1500’s, the Spanish explorers made contact with the Acoma people. When the Acoma heard that the Spanish wished to colonize them, they ambushed a Spanish scouting party. The Spanish attacked Acoma, and after many days of fighting, the pueblo fell. Many Acoma people were killed, the rest were enslaved. The Spanish began building the mission using Acoma slaves. The slaves had to carry ponderosa pine logs from Mt Taylor, 40 miles away. If they dropped one of these ‘holy’ logs, they were beaten, and had to return to the mountain for a new one.

In the late 1680’s, the Acoma revolted, along with other area Pueblos. The Spanish were driven out of the area for awhile. Many of the Acoma people maintained some of their Christian beliefs. Some went back to the old beliefs. Others melded their beliefs into something new. The Spanish returned several years later, and the relationship was more peaceful. Turtle told us things with the Spaniards weren’t all bad. The Acoma learned new ways of farming, building and cooking. The Spanish helped the Acoma repel Apache raiders.

The Mission Church at Acoma was built only a few years after San Miguel in Santa Fe. Turtle proudly told me that even though the church in Santa Fe is technically older, this one at Acoma has gone through fewer renovations, making it more original. The mission church is still very holy to the Acoma because many of their ancestors are entombed in its walls.

Turtle is a charming, happy, positive man. He had a very warm smile and a humble way of speaking. He wasn’t just a tour guide, he was a proud member of a proud people who was happy to share his culture. He made eye contact with us, and spoke to us, not at us. For a little while, we were his friends.


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