A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a half-day at Acoma Pueblo, which claims to be the oldest continuously occupied community in the U.S. "My ancestors have been living on this mesa since 1150," reported our tour guide. "And see that mesa over there?", he asked, pointing to so-called Enchanted Mesa a few miles away. "That's where they lived for 500 years before that, until a storm destroyed the path up to the top."
It's quite an amazing feeling to have someone telling you their family has lived within view of this spot for almost 1,400 years.
Acoma has a very organized tourism business, running buses from the visitor center located on the flatlands below the mesa, up to the top of the mesa, and then conducting a walking tour. Unlike many of the other pueblos I've visited, photos were permitted with the payment of a camera fee.
Acoma is located close to Laguna Pueblo, where I attended midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Click here to read my post about that experience. Acoma and Laguna share a common language (Keresan) and a high school, among other things.
At the end of the tour, several of us chose to walk down a path carved into the sandstone of the 367-foot high mesa (as opposed to riding the bus back down). While I think the guide was a bit over-enthusiastic about the path (stone stairs! 10 minutes!), it gave us some incredible views that we otherwise would not have seen.
Before the modern road was cut, this path was the only way up and down. Since the Acoma community farmed in the flatlands, carried up food and water, and brought the logs for the construction of the church in from Mount Taylor, 30 miles away, this must have been a very difficult trip.
According to our guide, the church of San Esteban Rey (Saint Steven the King) was built in the 1630s, under the direction of a Spanish missionary, and the men carrying the logs were not allowed to put them down anywhere on route (including on the path up the mesa) since otherwise they would be considered defiled.
Today there are relatively few folks who live on the mesa top, though it is used for all holiday and ceremonial occasions. Some Acoma people come and spend time on the mesa in the summer (much as others of us might go to a rough cabin in the woods or mountains). Since there is no electricity, cell phone reception, or running water on the mesa, it's really like going camping. Here are some outhouses set into the side of the mesa--you have to be brave, wide-awake, and surefooted to use those in the middle of the night!
Several artists were selling their wares along the tour--I bought a pot made by Selina Sanchez, who lives in Grants, NM, and specializes in Acoma "fine line"pottery painting, using yucca brushes that may continue as few as a single strand.