On a two week research trip to New Mexico a few years ago, in preparation for writing “In the Shadow of Vargas,” my first novel in the Land in Turmoil Series. My daughter Heather Hughes and I took a side trip to visit the Acoma Pueblo.
Called Sky City, Acoma has been continually inhabited for over 800 years. It is thought that, as the Anasazi abandoned their villages in places that we know of today as Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde, they moved toward the rivers, with some settling on a 365 foot mesa sixty miles west of Albuquerque New Mexico. Here they built their Pueblo, easily defended against the Apache and Navajo predators who roamed the land.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, in 1540, was the first European to discover the presence of this pueblo. Almost sixty years later a dispute with Spain’s Juan de Oñate, led to over 600 Acoma residents being slaughtered and another 500 imprisoned and forced into slavery.
Acoma survived, and in the early 1600’s Father Juan Ramirez, a Franciscan monk, arrived and oversaw the building of San Esteban Del Rey Mission. The church still sits on the top of the mesa today.
Heather and I walked through the streets of Acoma, alongside the adobe buildings with their wooden ladders leading to second stories. We bought pottery from street-side potters and sat on the steps of the mission church to spend an hour on this treeless mesa.
Few people reside here on a full time basis. Acoma has no electricity, no running water, and no sewage disposal. A road was constructed in the 1950’s to alleviate the need to carry everything to the top of the mesa up steps cut into the rock face.
Today, those living in Acoma still practice a mixture of Catholicism and their traditional religion.
If you are driving along Interstate 40, in New Mexico, and have a couple of hours to spare, turn off on Highway 23 and visit Acoma, as Heather and I did. You will also get a chance to see the Enchanted Mesa along the way. Tourism is a major source of income for the Acoma people. As always, when visiting a site such as this, be careful to observe the cultural traditions of our native people.
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Sincerely, E. Paul Bergeron