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Taos Pueblo Review
For nearly 1,000 years the mud-and-straw adobe walls of Taos Pueblo have sheltered Tiwa-speaking Native Americans. A United Nations World Heritage Site, this is the largest collection of multistory pueblo dwellings in the United States. The pueblo's main buildings, Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house), are separated by a creek. These structures are believed to be of a similar age, probably built between 1000 and 1450. The dwellings have common walls but no connecting doorways—the Tiwas gained access only from the top, via ladders that were retrieved after entering. Small buildings and corrals are scattered about.
The pueblo today appears much as it did when the first Spanish explorers arrived in New Mexico in 1540. The adobe walls glistening with mica caused the conquistadors to believe they had discovered one of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The outside surfaces are continuously maintained by replastering with thin layers of mud, and the interior walls are frequently coated with thin washes of white clay. Some walls are several feet thick in places. The roofs of each of the five-story structures are supported by large timbers, or vigas, hauled down from the mountain forests. Pine or aspen latillas (smaller pieces of wood) are placed side by side between the vigas; the entire roof is then packed with dirt.
Even after 400 years of Spanish and Anglo presence in Taos, inside the pueblo the traditional Native American way of life has endured. Tribal custom allows no electricity or running water in Hlauuma and Hlaukwima, where varying numbers (usually fewer than 150) of Taos Native Americans live full-time. About 1,900 others live in conventional homes on the pueblo's 95,000 acres. The crystal-clear Rio Pueblo de Taos, originating high above in the mountains at the sacred Blue Lake, is the primary source of water for drinking and irrigating. Bread is still baked in hornos (outdoor domed ovens). Artisans of the Taos Pueblo produce and sell (tax-free) traditionally handcrafted wares, such as mica-flecked pottery and silver jewelry. Great hunters, the Taos Native Americans are also known for their work with animal skins and their excellent moccasins, boots, and drums.
Although the population is about 80% Catholic, the people of Taos Pueblo, like most Pueblo Native Americans, also maintain their native religious traditions. At Christmas and other sacred holidays, for instance, immediately after Mass, dancers dressed in seasonal sacred garb proceed down the aisle of St. Jerome Chapel, drums beating and rattles shaking, to begin other religious rites.
The pueblo Church of San Geronimo, or St. Jerome, the patron saint of Taos Pueblo, was completed in 1850 to replace the one destroyed by the U.S. Army in 1847 during the Mexican War. With its smooth symmetry, stepped portal, and twin bell towers, the church is a popular subject for photographers and artists (though the taking of photographs inside is discouraged).
The public is invited to certain ceremonial dances held throughout the year (a full list of these is posted on the pueblo Web site): highlights include the Feast of Santa Cruz Foot Race and Corn Dance (May 3); Taos Pueblo Pow Wow (July 8–10); Feast of San Geronimo Sunset Dance (July 25 and 26, September 29 and 30); Vespers and Bonfire Procession (December 24); and Deer Dance or Matachines Dance (December 25). While you're at the pueblo, respect the "Restricted area" signs that protect the privacy of residents and native religious sites; do not enter private homes or open any doors not clearly labeled as curio shops; do not photograph tribal members without asking permission; do not enter the cemetery grounds; and do not wade in the Rio Pueblo de Taos, which is considered sacred and is the community's sole source of drinking water.
The small, rather prosaic, and smoke-free Taos Mountain Casino (open daily) is just off Camino del Pueblo after you turn right off Paseo del Pueblo on your way to the main pueblo.
- Address: Head to right off Paseo del Pueblo Norte just past Best Western Kachina Lodge, Taos, 87571 | Map It
- Phone: 575/758–1028
- Cost: Tourist fees $10; guided tours; photography and video permits $6 per camera, cell phone (if you're using it to take pictures), or video-recording device; commercial photography, sketching, or painting only by prior permission from governor's office (575/758–1028); fees vary; apply at least 10 days in advance
- Hours: Daily 8–4:30, tours by appointment. Closed for funerals, religious ceremonies, and for 10-week quiet time in late winter or early spring, and last part of Aug.; call ahead before visiting at these times
- Website: www.taospueblo.com
- Location: Taos Pueblo
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