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Taos Pueblo

by Valerie Vanr
Full view of North House showing its large size and multiple storeys

What is Taos Pueblos? A museum? Pioneer village? No, it is a living, vibrant community home to about 150 people and has been continuously occupied for over 1,000 years. The people live without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing as their ancestors did and in 2 housing structures whose main parts are believed to have been built between 1000 and 1450 CE. Taos Pueblo is designated a US National Historic Landmark District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is on the US National Register of Historic Places. It is about a mile north of the city of Taos, New Mexico.

Can you visit?

Yes. The Pueblo is generally open to the public daily from 8:00 am* to 4:30 pm (*Sunday 8:30 am) except when required to close for community events and ceremonies. In late winter/early spring the Pueblo closes for about ten weeks. An admission fee applies and is paid at the admissions building outside the adobe walls. See Taos Pueblo for current fees and closure dates.  Visiting is allowed on Feast Days when special rules apply. These are noted on the website.

Time of Visit:

Allow 1 to 2 hours for your visit (adding more time if you have a large interest in arts and crafts).

Are tours available? Required?

Free tours depart from the churchyard every 20 minutes beginning at 9:00 am and are about 30 minutes long. Volunteer guides, members of the pueblo community and often post-secondary students, take you to areas of significance within the adobe walls of the village. You can visit the pueblo without taking a tour but the tours allow a better understanding of the working of the pueblo from a member of the community. You have the opportunity to ask questions about the San Geronimo Church, the Old Church/Cemetery, the North and South houses, the Red Willow Creek, Horno structures (ovens) and questions about their government and general history.

Is the entire pueblo open to the public?

No. There are signs indicating restricted areas. A map is provided upon admission which clearly notes areas restricted for visit. Restricted areas include homes which are not retail shops open for business, the Old Church/Cemetery, kivas and any other areas where signs note restricted access. Climbing on any structure, including ladders, is prohibited.

Taos Pueblo Features

The adobe-walled village includes:

  • Hlaauma (North House) and Hlaukkwima (South House).  These are 2 large multi-tiered adobe structures that are separated by a segment the Red Willow Creek,
  • San Geronimo Catholic Church, and
  • The Cemetery.  The ruins of the first church (“Old Church”) built in the 1600s are within the cemetery walls.
Site map provided upon admission into Taos Pueblo

Hlaauma and Hlaukkwima

They are like apartment buildings with each “apartment” being owned by a family and passed from one generation to the next.  Families have lived here continuously for over 1,000 years. The main parts of the houses are thought to have been constructed between 1000 and 1450CE. The diligent maintenance of the adobe architecture has allowed the stability and longevity of these structures.

Ladders are shown against North House allowing access to upper homes
Ladders shown are used to access upper homes at North House

Families who own homes within these houses often live in summer homes near their fields, and in more modern homes outside the walls but still within reservation land, returning to the village for celebrations. The reservation adjoining the pueblo is approximately 95,000 acres. The families who choose to live in Halaauma and Hlaukkwima do so without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing according to their beliefs.

Coloured doors of homes in North House
Beautiful coloured doors of North House

Red Willow Creek

It is the direct and sole source of water for the community and all water for cooking, washing, personal hygiene, etc is carried by pail from it to their homes.

Red Willow Creek, sole water source for the pueblo
Red Willow Creek is the sole water source for Taos Pueblo

Horno structures (ovens)

These adobe-mud ovens, shaped like beehives, were introduced by the Spanish and perfected by the Pueblo people.  A wood fire is lit inside the horno. The resulting ashes and embers are removed and the heat retained by the adobe bricking allows items to be cooked quickly and in large batches. Hornos are used in the pueblo to bake bread and this bread is available for purchase in some of the shops. Other baked goods, vegetables and meats can be cooked in hornos.

One of the horno ovens for baking bread sold in the Pueblo
Horno ovens are used for baking bread sold in the pueblo

San Geronimo Catholic Church

Catholicism was forced on the people of the Taos Pueblo in 1540 with the arrival of the Spanish.  It is currently the most practised organized religion of the community.  The current San Geronimo Church was built in 1850 and is used for Sunday mass, weddings etc.

The Taos Puebloans also continue to practice their own tribal religion.  They do not share these details with people outside of their own community.  Our guide mentioned that their religious beliefs and Catholicism are compatible and co-exist.

Front of San Geronimo Church
San Geronimo Church

Old Church/Cemetery

The first church was built in 1619 by forced labour.  It was destroyed twice (1680 Pueblo Revolt and the 1847 Taos Revolt). The structure was not rebuilt after the Taos Revolt and remains in its natural state within the cemetery walls. Visitors are prohibited from walking within the cemetery boundaries.

Ruins of the first church are within the cemetery
Ruins of the first church are within the cemetery

Background

The People and traditions

Taos Pueblo and the people of the Pueblo itself claim an aboriginal presence in the Taos Valley since time immemorial. Their history is oral, sacred and guarded vigorously by them. Their community shows similarities to settlement sites of ancestral Pueblo people that are found in nearby Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde however their specific connection is not known.

Ancestral Pueblo people

Archaeologists believe that Ancestral Puebloans are descended from groups of hunter/gatherers who arrived in the area of the current Southwestern US over 10,000 years ago. The groups varied but did share customs and traits such as farming, weaving and pottery making.  The architecture and pottery reflects diversity over time and from place to place. Archaeology has shown that in the period between 1100 CE and 1300 CE groups of Ancestral Puebloans were moving from the 4 corners area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico to more southern areas of New Mexico and Arizona including the pueblos along the Rio Grande River.

Spanish occupation

The term Pueblo was given by the Spanish to describe the villages they found upon entering the area, beginning in the 1500’s CE. The villages were a collection of buildings, often multi-storied, made of adobe, stone and local materials.  Later the term pueblo was used to refer to the people within the villages as well.

The Spanish tried to implement their rules, customs and religion. In 1680 the Pueblo peoples rebelled against this imposition driving the Spanish back to the current Mexico border and beyond.  By 1700 the Spanish had managed to return. Through the next century, relations between the Spanish and the Taos people settled down as they faced a common enemy in the Ute and Comanche tribes. Gradually Spanish religious customs and agricultural practices became part of the Taos community.

Mexican Independence and New Mexico Statehood

In 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain and the area of the current state of New Mexico became a province of Mexico.  Mexico began trading with the United States and American settlers began arriving in the area shortly after. The Mexican American War erupted in 1846 and the capital, Santa Fe, was captured by the US. The 1847 Taos Revolt by native and Hispanic forces, both against becoming part of the United States, resulted in the killing of the territorial governor. The US Cavalry was called in to suppress the revolt.  The cavalry pushed the locals back to the Pueblo’s San Geronimo church then bombed it, destroying it and killing more than 100 Hispanic and native people. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, ceded New Mexico to the United States. New Mexico became the 47th US State in 1912.

Government

The pueblo is self-governing with a tribal government system whose governing body consists of three parts: Governor, Warchief and Tribal Council. The Governor and Warchief are appointed annually. The Tribal Council consists of men who have served on the staff of the Governor and Warchief. They serve on the tribal council for their lifetime. The pueblo is also subject to state and federal laws as apply to reservations.

Churchyard entrance where tours meet
Entrance to Churchyard where tours meet

Additional Visitor Info:

Parking

Free parking is available outside of the walled pueblo.  You will be directed to a lot where you may park.

Shopping

There are shops where a variety of traditional and contemporary art and craft work as well as food are available for purchase. These shops are part of homes and are clearly marked with signs.  Only homes with signs noting them as open for business can be entered.

Open shop in a home in North House
Shops are found in homes of North and South Houses

Public Restrooms

The only public restrooms are behind the admissions building. 

Pets

Visitors’ pets are allowed but must be leashed, kept away from the creek running through the village and picked up after. There are resident animals that wander freely.

Sidetrip – San Francisco De Asis Church (in Taos)

If you have additional time in the area, it is worthwhile to visit the San Francisco De Asis Church. The church is located about 4 miles south of Taos on the south side of New Mexico Road 68. The church was constructed between 1772 and 1816 as the mission church at Ranchos de Taos. It continues to be a place of worship and an integral part of the community. This adobe church is a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture and popular with photographers. It is a National Historic Landmark.

San Franisco de Asis church in Taos area
San Francisco de Asis church in Taos area

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