Zuni Pueblo has been occupied continuously since at least the year 700, and its language—technically A:shiwi, as the Zunis refer to themselves—is unrelated to that of any other pueblo. Hawikku, a Zuni-speaking settlement (now a ruin) 12 mi south of the pueblo, was the first to come in contact with the Spaniards, in 1539. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado came here seeking one of the Seven Cities of Gold. He'd been tipped off by his guide, Estéban, who had seen the setting sun striking the walls of the dwellings and thought the multistoried villages were made of gold.
With a population of more than 10,000, Zuni Pueblo is the largest of New Mexico's 19 Indian pueblos. Zuni—or more correctly in the A:shiwi language, Halona Idiwan'a, or "Middle Place"—has a mix of buildings: modern ones in addition to old adobes, but what is most prevalent are beautifully hewn red-sandstone structures, some more than 100 years old. The artists and craftspeople here are renowned for their masterful
stone inlay, Zuni "needlepoint" turquoise and silver jewelry, carved stone animal fetishes, polychrome pottery, and kachina figures. Weavings have become all but impossible to find as old weavers pass on and younger Zunis don't take up the craft, but it's fine work—now mostly seen in belts and sashes for personal use—and worth looking for if textiles are your passion.
The Zuni Visitor & Arts Center, where the helpful staff will tell you what your options are for exploring Zuni (and about any special events that might be going on), is also a tribally required stop before you begin to explore this most traditional of the New Mexico pueblos. It is here that you must inquire about photography permits and guidelines (cultural and religious activities are always off-limits). 1239 NM 53, on north side of the road as you enter pueblo from east, 87327. 505/782–7238. www.zunitourism.com. Tours $10 to mission or Middle Village, $15 for both; artists' studios $75 for up to 4 people; Hawikku $50 for up to 2 people. Visitor center weekdays 8:30–5:30, Sat. 10–4, Sun. noon–4. Mission/Middle Village tours Mon.–Sat. at 10, 1, and 3; Sun. at 1 and 3; or by appointment. Closed on tribal holidays.
The original Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, built in 1629, was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when Native Americans ousted the Spanish. In 1699 the mission was rebuilt, and in 1966 it was restored. A powerful series of murals by Alex Seowotewa depicting each of the Zuni kachinas now lines the interior walls; the aging adobe structure is again in need of restoration. Visits are by tour only, arranged through the Zuni Visitor & Arts Center. Middle Village. 505/782–7238. Tours $10. Tours Mon.–Sat. at 10, 1, and 3; Sun. at 1 and 3; hrs sometimes vary, call ahead.
A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, which celebrates Zuni history and culture through a collection of Hawikku artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian, is housed in the historic Kelsey trading post. The museum's orientation is more toward engaging the community rather than outsiders, but there is much to see here. Historic Zuni pottery and contemporary work is also displayed, as well as documentation from the early-19th-century excavation at Hawikku and a beautiful mural depicting the A:shiwi peoples' emergence story, which starts at the Grand Canyon. 02 E. Ojo Caliente Rd., at Pia Mesa Rd.; from NM 53 turn south at Pia Mesa Rd. 505/782–4403. www.ashiwi-museum.org. Donations accepted. Weekdays 9–6.