One of the primary attractions of New Mexico is its large and diverse collection of American Indian (or, if you prefer, Native American—both terms are used in the state) pueblos, reservations, artwork, and of course, people. The 19 pueblos are spread across north central, central, and northwest New Mexico. Each pueblo is unique, with their own distinct artistic styles, attractions, and customs.
"Pueblo" - the Spanish word for "town" or "village" - is used in New Mexico to refer to the series of small Native American communities in the state, most of which were established along the Rio Grande. This usage of the word dates back to the first Spanish explorers who passed through the area, who used the term to refer to what were then (and in some cases still are) Native communities housed in apartment-like structures built of adobe and stone, usually arranged around a plaza or perched atop a mesa for defense reasons.
Though often referred to in the collective, each pueblo is unique, with its own set of artistic, cultural and linguistic sensibilities, though they have often had to unite in response to outside forces. The pueblos' historical relationship with the Spanish settlers has varied considerably, from a violent revolt in 1680 in response to the extremely harsh measures the first conquistadors took in converting the Natives to Catholicism (to this day, the Pueblo Indians have tried to reconcile their Native beliefs with Catholic traditions) to more friendly terms in later years when the Pueblos would unite with their Spanish neighbors to fight other Native tribes in the area, like the Navajo, Apache and Comanche.
The absorption of New Mexico into the United States in the 1840s brought new difficulties, with many young Natives taken from their communities and placed in boarding schools in the decades that followed. Today, many Pueblo Indians live outside their historic settlements in modern-day housing. But in spite of all this, the Pueblo tribes proudly continue on, practicing the traditions their ancestors did. Some pueblos have taken measures to isolate themselves as a way of protecting their old traditions from an encroaching outside world, while others eagerly welcome visitors so long as they respect the locals' privacy and way of life.
Many, but by no means all, of the pueblo communities welcome visitors, usually with some restrictions. Following are some tips if you're planning to see the sights of these communities:
- Please respect local regulations regarding photography and sketching! Most north-central and central pueblos require would-be photographers and artists to pay for permits issued by the pueblo administration, and some don't allow photography or sketching at all. Do not photograph tribal members without first asking permission. Those who break the rules risk having their cameras and film confiscated. You will also want to refrain from bringing a cell phone onto a pueblo, as tribal officials could confiscate cell phones if they feel they might be used for photography. If the restrictions seem draconian, remember that these are not museum exhibits or theme parks: they are towns and settlements where people live their daily lives.
- Like any other village, these pueblos are a home to someone, so respect their property and their privacy. Do not litter. Do not enter homes unless invited to do so. Stay far away from kivas, ceremonial rooms, and cemeteries.
"American Indian" or "Native American"?
In many places in the United States, the neologism "Native American" has replaced "American Indian" as the descriptor for indigenous peoples, "American Indian" being viewed by some as pejorative. In New Mexico, however, "American Indian" is still widely used, and indeed was preferred by members of several northern New Mexico pueblos in a poll conducted a few years ago. (Actually, the most common response was "it doesn't really matter," but "American Indian" was preferred by a plurality of those who expressed an opinion.) You can use either term without discomfort and need not go to any lengths to structure your language one way or the other when visiting the Institute of American Indian Arts, Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonials, Santa Fe Indian Market, etc.
- Most of the pueblos and reservations hold ceremonial dances, feasts and sings that welcome visitors, as well as some others of a more private, religious nature at which visitors are unwelcome if not forbidden. Bear in mind that the pueblo people are very protective of their religious beliefs, so do not press questions about pueblo religion. You are also required to be silent during dances and ceremonies, which means no applauding and no talking to the participants. If this seems odd, think of the dances not as a performance, but as a religious ceremony: the equivalent of a church mass.
- Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on pueblo land.
- For many residents of some pueblos and reservations, not only is English not the primary daily language, it may not be spoken fluently or at all. Most residents in the "service" sector (i.e., those you will interact with first) are as fluent in English as their Anglophone colleagues in neighboring communities, and there is no reason to speak to them in a patronizing or condescending manner. However, if you venture far from the main tourist centers, you may run into language issues, although you are still odds-on to deal with English speakers. Patience and gestures will overcome many obstacles, but be aware that in certain areas it is considered rude to point with extended fingers. A nod or tip of the head for indicating direction is considered more polite (true among fluent English speakers as well).
There are a variety of ways to get in to New Mexico - see the Get in section on the New Mexico article for further details - but once you get in, you'll need a car to travel to and between the pueblos. Specific directions are given for each pueblo below. Roads are generally in good condition, but some are narrow and you may wind up on a couple of gravel roads for the more remote pueblos. Pueblos situated along a main road (such as those along I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe) will usually have a gas station along said main road, but those pueblos off the beaten path will often have virtually nothing in terms of gas stations —head to the nearest town or large road to find one.
- Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th Street NW (just north of I-40 in Albuquerque), ☎ . Every day 9AM-4:30PM, closed on major holidays. Operated by the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico, this complex has a small museum with some artifacts showing the culture and history of the pueblo people. The center also has an art gallery, a children's area, a restaurant, and a large gift shop. Indian Dances are a frequent event. $6 adults, $4 children, under age 5 free.
There are also several museums across the state that, while not operated by the pueblos, offer a lot of great pueblo-related artworks and information. Here are some of the best ones:
- Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, 710 Camino Lejo (on "Museum Hill" in Santa Fe), ☎ . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. While it doesn't focus specifically on the pueblos, there is a lot of art and artifacts from pueblo cultures at this large museum, which gives an excellent insight into pueblo culture and history. $8 (several discounts and free admission on occasion; discount pass for Museum of New Mexico applies).
- Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 108 Cathedral Place (downtown across the street from St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe), ☎ , toll-free: . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 12PM-5PM. Again not specifically focused on the pueblos, but you will find a lot of pueblo stuff here. The Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) is a long-standing Santa Fe institution devoted to contemporary Indian art that also sponsors the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Adults $5, students and seniors (62+) $2.50; discounts for New Mexico residents and tribal members.
- Millicent Rogers Museum, on Millicent Rogers Road off of Paseo del Pueblo (north of Taos), ☎ . Daily, 10AM-5PM (closed on Mondays November–March). Famed artist Millicent Rogers collected an incredible number of southwest artworks, and her collection is the basis of this wonderful museum. You will see some magnificent pueblo artwork here, including gorgeous pottery, jewelry, and carvings. $10.
Eight Northern Pueblos
Spread across North Central New Mexico, from north to south:
Just north of Taos on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, +1 575 758-1028. M-Sa 8AM-4PM, Su 8:30AM-4PM. The pueblo closes late winter to early spring for about ten weeks for tribal rituals. $10 per adult, $5 per student, children under 13 free. Photography/filming allowed; $5 fee. Professional/commercial photographers and artists must apply for a permit beforehand.
Located just outside the town of Taos and the only pueblo which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Taos is one of the most popular pueblos for tourists due to its strikingly well-preserved multi-story village which looks much the same as it has for hundreds of years. In fact, Taos is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States (some say the oldest, a title which is also claimed by Hopi Pueblo in Arizona and Acoma Pueblo). The San Geronimo Feast Day is held on September 30.
On state road 75 just west of the junction with state road 76 near Peñasco, +1 575 587-2519.
The smallest of the pueblos population-wise, Picuris is in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Taos and Española, near the small community of Peñasco. Picuris potters create an interesting pottery that, unlike other pueblo art, doesn't have much ornamentation. It is made using micaceous clay gathered locally, giving the pottery a faint glitter due to the mica flakes. The St. Lawrence Feast Day is held on August 10.
Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo
Off of state road 68 a few miles north of Española, +1 505 852-4400. Fee required for taking photos or videos and for sketching.
Ohkay Owingeh (formerly known as San Juan Pueblo, which is still a name you will see even on some recent maps) is the headquarters of the Eight Northern Pueblos. Ohkay Owingeh is also the home of the Oke Owinge Arts & Crafts Cooperative, an art center where you can see artists at work. The St. John the Baptist Feast Day is held on June 23–24.
Santa Clara Pueblo
On state road 30 just south of Española, +1 505 753-7330.
Just south of Española along the Rio Grande, Santa Clara operates the Puye Cliff Dwellings, the ruins of an ancient pueblo that was built into and atop the high cliffs above the Rio Grande Valley. Be sure to call ahead though, as Puye is often closed due to fire danger or deterioration of the ruins. Santa Clara artisans are well known for their unique black and red pottery with deep engravings. The St. Clare Feast Day is held on August 12.
San Ildefonso Pueblo
On state road 502 west of Pojoaque, +1 505 455-2273. Photography by $10 permit only. Sketching prohibited at pueblo.
Situated on the Rio Grande near "Black Mesa" (a large volcanic outcropping just north of the village), San Ildefonso is most famous for being the home of Maria Martinez, known for her black-on-black pottery style which has become popular for many pueblo potters. The San Ildefonso Feast Day is held on January 23.
At Pojoaque you won't find many historic structures due to the pueblo's often troubled history, having been abandoned and reestablished a few times since the arrival of Europeans. Pojoaque is more of a stop-over between Santa Fe and Española these days, with a casino, resort, and truck stop. However, Pojoaque is the home of the Poeh Museum, which is dedicated to pueblo art and culture in the area. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day is held on December 10.
On state road 503 just east of Pojoaque, +1 505 455-2278. Fee required for taking photos or videos and for sketching.
Nambe is a small village with some artistic heritage, and is known for a distinctive style of pottery called "Nambé Polychrome". Nearby is the Nambe Falls, a park operated by the pueblo which contains a beautiful waterfall. The San Francisco de Assisi Feast Day is held on October 4.
On US-84/285 about 10 miles north of Santa Fe, +1 505 983-2667. The pueblo is closed to the public most of the year, so call ahead before visiting. Photography is prohibited.
Tesuque is a small pueblo most well known for being the home of Camel Rock, an unusual rock formation along the road between Santa Fe and Española which, from certain angles, does indeed look like a camel. The San Diego Feast Day is held on November 12.
Central New Mexico Pueblos
Roughly from north to south:
On state road 22, 14 miles off of I-25 south of Santa Fe, +1 505 465-2244. Any means of audio or visual reproduction (sketching, recording, photography, etc.) is prohibited. Usage of cell phones within the pueblo is prohibited.
South of Santa Fe, Cochiti is the home of Cochiti Lake, a reservoir along the Rio Grande built for flood control and used for recreation. Cochiti also operates the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument jointly with BLM. This underappreciated monument offers some lovely geological formations and an excellent hiking trail (hiking boots recommended) that takes the visitor on a 1.5-mile hike to an overlook that includes a short but spectacular section of slot canyon. Fee $5/vehicle.
Cochiti artists are known for jewelry, pottery, and drums. Many Cochiti artists are also well known for their storyteller figures, small clay figures which portray children listening to an elder tell stories. The St. Bonaventure Feast Day is held on July 14.
Santo Domingo Pueblo
Just south of Cochiti, on state road 22, +1 505 465-2214.
One of the largest pueblos, Santo Domingo has been able to maintain a very historic settlement that looks much like it did after the Spanish settled in the valley. Santo Domingo artists are well known for their fine jewelry and turquoise work. The Domingo St. Dominic Feast Day is held on August 4.
San Felipe Pueblo
Off of I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, +1 505 867-3381. Photography and sketching prohibited at pueblo.
San Felipe is a small historic village which has largely been able to resist outside influence. Beadwork is popular among artists here. The St. Phillip Feast Day is held on May 1.
Just north of the village of Bernalillo, +1 505 867-3301. The pueblo is closed to the public except for feast days. Photography and sketching prohibited at pueblo.
On the outskirts of the Albuquerque metro area, Santa Ana Pueblo (also known as Tamaya) has been heavily affected by the encroaching cities of Central New Mexico but still manage to continue many of their traditions. Santa Ana artisans are skilled in pottery, belts, and headbands. The St. Anne Feast Day is held on July 26.
Northeast of Bernalillo off of US-550, +1 505 867-3304. Any means of audio or visual reproduction (sketching, recording, photography, etc.) is prohibited. Usage of cell phones within the pueblo is prohibited.
Zia is nearly invisible to the traveler on the road, and doesn't offer much for the tourist. But one element of the Zia Pueblo can be seen across New Mexico: the Zia Sun Symbol, which is on the New Mexico state flag. Zia artists are skilled in pottery. The Our Lady of Assumption Feast Day is held on August 15.
Far northeast of Bernalillo near the village of Jemez Springs, on state road 4 off of US-550, +1 505 834-7235. Any means of audio or visual reproduction (sketching, recording, photography, etc.) is prohibited.
On the western side of the Jemez Mountains, this pueblo is closed to outsiders except for feast days. However, the Walatowa Visitor Center on state road 4 offers exhibits and information about pueblo culture as well as traditional art for sale. The San Diego Feast Day is held on November 12.
Just north of Albuquerque off of I-25, +1 505 867-3317.
Sandia is a small settlement on the Rio Grande on the outskirts of Albuquerque. The pueblo operates a nearby casino and the Bien Mur Indian Market Center, +1 505 821-5400, which offers a wide variety of pueblo art for sale. The St. Anthony Feast Day is held on June 13.
About 10 miles south of Albuquerque on state road 314 to state road 147, +1 505 869-3111.
The village of Isleta is centered around the St. Augustine Church, a historic adobe white-plastered church. Isleta artisans are well known for their pottery, embroidery, and jewelry and their excellent bread baking. The St. Augustine Feast Day is held on September 4.
Northwest New Mexico Pueblos
From east to west:
About 45 miles west of Albuquerque off of I-40 on state road 124, +1 505 552-6654. Any means of audio or visual reproduction (sketching, recording, photography, etc.) is prohibited.
East of Grants, Laguna is a rather large (but scattered) pueblo that is a little off the beaten path. Laguna pottery often features red, yellow and orange geometric designs. The St. Joseph Feast Day is held on September 19.
50 miles west of Albuquerque, just south of I-40 on country road 12A, +1 505 552-6604. Photography requires a purchased permit. Use of tripods, video cameras, digital video cameras, cellular phone cameras and binoculars prohibited.
East of Grants, Acoma is a striking and very historic village, located atop a tall mesa. Much like Taos, Acoma village has changed little over hundreds of years and could be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States (a title which is also claimed by Hopi Pueblo in Arizona and Taos Pueblo). Tours are conducted of the historic village from a visitor center which also contains a museum on pueblo culture. Acoma potters are well known for their distinctive thin-walled pottery The St. Stephen Feast Day is held on September 2.
About 40 miles south of Gallup via state road 602 to state road 53, +1 505 782-7238. Any means of audio or visual reproduction (sketching, recording, photography, etc.) is prohibited.
Zuni is a large and historic pueblo, set around a centuries-old mission church. From the pueblo's museum, you can take a tour of the settlement which has retained its historic character. Zuni artists are well known for their love of turquoise, and the jewlery and beads they produce is widely renowned. Zuni Fetishes, small carved stylized figures (usually animals) are common works among many Zuni artists. Zuni is also known for their Kachina dances.
Feast Days and Dances
All of the pueblos (excluding Zuni) hold feast days, an annual celebration in which the pueblo's patron saint is honored. Many pueblos have succeeded in reconciling their historic religious practices with the dominant Christian (particularly Catholic) practice, and celebrations are open to the general public, with many festivities and food. Dates for feast days are covered above under the individual pueblos.
There are also numerous dances at each of the pueblos throughout the year. Most pueblos will have dances for January 6 (All King's Day), Easter Sunday, and Christmas (some on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas Day). For a complete list of dances, see here.
In addition to pueblo dances, New Mexico also plays host to the Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow, held every April in Albuquerque, and the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, held every August in Gallup. Both these events draw Native American dancers and artists from across the country, but you're sure to see people from the pueblos as well.
The draw of legalized gambling brings people (along with their money), so many of the pueblos have built casinos of their own, ranging from regular establishments with slot machines, gaming tables, and an on-site restaurant, to lavish resorts with golf courses and hotels.
In Northern New Mexico there are five casinos. Taos Pueblo operates the Taos Mountain Casino just outside the pueblo entrance. Just north of Española is the Ohkay Casino near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo while Santa Clara Pueblo operates the Big Rock Casino right in the middle of Española. Between Española and Santa Fe is the Cities of Gold Casino operated by Pojoaque Pueblo. Just down the road, closer to Santa Fe, is Tesuque Pueblo's Camel Rock Casino.
In the Albuquerque area are several casinos to take advantage of the large population of the region. Between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is Casino Hollywood, operated by San Felipe Pueblo. The Santa Ana Pueblo runs the Santa Ana Star Casino just outside of Bernalillo. On the northern outskirts of Albuquerque is the Sandia Casino, while the Hard Rock Casino draws people to Isleta Pueblo to the south of Albuquerque. East of Albuquerque along I-40 is Laguna Pueblo's Route 66 Casino and Dancing Eagle Casino and Acoma Pueblo's Sky City Casino.
Just about anywhere where there's plenty of tourists in New Mexico, there will be plenty of Native American art for sale. The Old Town area in Albuquerque and the Plaza areas in Santa Fe and Taos are packed with art galleries, many of them offering authentic Native American art, most of it extremely high-quality. You will also find plenty of touristy places which often sell the occasional piece of real Indian art alongside the postcards, t-shirts, mugs, and other kitsch.
In Santa Fe, Indian artists gather on the Portal (porch) at the Palace of the Governors museum on the Plaza, selling tourist trinkets like jewlery and small pottery. If it's on the Portal, it's guaranteed to be authentic Native American art, but sidewalk vendors elsewhere in town could be passing off non-Indian junk as authentic, so be careful.
If you want to be certain that what you're buying is authentic Native American art, sometimes the best thing to do is just go straight to the pueblos themselves. Virtually every pueblo contains at least several shops, located either along the main road near the entrance to the pueblo, or within the pueblo villages themselves in homes-turned-shops (be extra careful to make sure you're entering a shop and not someone's private residence, and don't venture into rooms behind the shop if it looks private as it probably is).
You can also attend annual festival markets. The Santa Fe Indian Market, held annually every August on the Santa Fe Plaza, is the largest such event, with hundreds of vendors selling an extremely wide range of Native American art. Events like the Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow mentioned above are also great chances to browse for art.
"New Mexican" cuisine (see the Eat section of the New Mexico page) is popular among pueblo peoples; after all, it is influenced by both the native and Hispanic cultures who have lived in the area for centuries. Many of the elements of "New Mexican" apply to Puebloan cuisine as well, but there are a few dishes which are distinctly Indian:
- Oven bread is very popular among the pueblos. It is baked in a horno, an outdoor beehive-shaped oven built out of adobe that uses a wood fire as its only heat source. Hornos are common in northern New Mexico and the bread baked in them is light and fluffy.
- Frybread is another common dish, made by frying or deep-frying a flat dough in oil or lard. It is similar to a sopaipilla (a common New Mexican dish) but different in that sopaipillas are pillowy and filled with air (and thus often stuffed with other ingredients) while frybread is thick and flatter. It can be served as a sweet dish with honey or powdered sugar added on top, or as an Indian taco with beans, ground beef, shredded cheese, and vegetables added on top.
- Cornbread is a traditional staple among the Pueblo people, and cornmeal has always played a significant role in Pueblo life.
- Posole is another staple of Pueblo cuisine. It is soup or stew made from hominy, often with pork, chili, corn, beans, and squash added.
Given how remote many of the pueblos are, you won't be able to find a significant amount of nightlife without traveling to Albuquerque or Santa Fe. However, nearly all of the casinos listed above serve drinks, and several of them bring in name-brand entertainment (primarily the large ones immediately surrounding Albuquerque and Santa Fe).
Beware: small-town bars here are not always good places for the out-of-state visitor to hang out. For one thing, northern New Mexico has significant problems with drunk driving, and the concentration of intoxicated drivers is high close to small-town bars. For another, there have been ethnic tensions intermittently in this part of the state that have led to serious bar fights, some of which have involved visitors. Tread carefully.
Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, Santa Ana, Sandia, Isleta, Laguna, and Acoma Pueblos have hotels on-site, and nearly all of them are attached to their large casinos. However, accommodations at these hotels, which are usually full-on resorts with golf courses and such, are usually not cheap. A larger selection of accommodations can be found in Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup.
Some of these pueblos are quite remote. While you should do okay maintaining a cell phone signal in these parts (a lot of cell towers have been built in New Mexico recently) don't be surprised if you do lose it. Wi-fi is almost non-existent in the pueblos (except perhaps at some hotels), so it's not even worth the trouble to try.
The pueblos are just one of the many things to experience in New Mexico. However, if you're hankering for more Indian culture, head out to the Navajo or Apache reservations in the state. The Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico is vast and has a lot to offer, as do the Jicarilla Apache Nation between Chama and Farmington in northwest New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache Reservation near Ruidoso in southeast New Mexico.
Another good activity for those interested in Pueblo culture is to visit the sites where the ancestors of today's pueblo people lived. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument north of Farmington, Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and Bandelier National Monument are all fantastic places to see the remnants of the Ancient Pueblo peoples. For slightly more recent ruins, Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in Mountainair, and Pecos National Historical Park on I-25 west of Santa Fe in the town of Pecos, offer a glimpse at pueblo life just after the Spanish arrived in New Mexico.