Home USANew Mexico Taos Pueblo Tour

Taos Pueblo Tour

by Valerie Vanr
Taos Pueblo North House

Visit Taos Pueblo, an adobe-walled village about a mile northeast of Taos, New Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

See multi-storied adobe houses believed to date back close to 1000 years. They’ve been continuously occupied and maintained by traditional methods since then.

Meet the people of this vibrant community of about 150 people, living without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing as their ancestors have for centuries.

Self-guided Walking Tour of Taos Pueblo

Walk the grounds of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in a respectful manner. This is the home of a very private group of people. There are restricted areas indicated by signs and barricades as shown on the map provided with admission. Restricted areas include homes which are not open retail shops, the Old Church/Cemetery, kivas and any other signed areas. Do not climb on any structure including ladders.

Site map provided upon admission into Taos Pueblo

Follow this short tour of the pueblo. At the entrance to the adobe-walled village, turn left and walk toward the church ruins and cemetery.

Old Church/Cemetery

This ruin is what remains of a church which was destroyed in the 1847 Taos Revolt. The original structure was built in 1619 by forced labour.  It was partially destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and later rebuilt. Visitors are not allowed within the cemetery boundaries.

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

Walk the alleys through the adobe structure to the east of the church. If an alley is barricaded, choose another. Just watch the other tourists. This will bring you to the central open area of the community, with the Red Willow Creek running through it. To the left and right you’ll notice the 2 large adobe structures.

North House – Hlaauma and South House – Hlaukkwima

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

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 ensured the stability and longevity of these structures. 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

Explore the shops in North and South Houses, crossing Red Willow Creek at the designated spots.

Red Willow Creek

The creek is the direct and sole source of water for the community. All water for cooking, washing and personal hygiene is carried by pail from the creek to each home.

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

At the west end of the central area is

San Geronimo Catholic Church

The San Geronimo Church was built in 1850 and is used for Sunday mass, weddings, and other religious ceremonies. 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. 

Front of San Geronimo Church
San Geronimo Church

As you wander the village, watch for beehive-shaped adobe structures in front of many homes. They are called hornos.

Hornos (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 which 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

To gain a better understanding of the working of the pueblo and meet a member of the community, we recommend you take the guided tour.

Free Guided Tour

These tours by a members of the Taos community are about 30 minutes long, departing from the churchyard regularly. You will be taken on a walking tour of the village and gain insight into their history and traditions. You have the opportunity to ask questions about the structures you’ll see, their government and general history.

Churchyard entrance where tours meet
Entrance to Churchyard where tours meet

The People and their traditions

The people Taos Pueblo 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.

The Taos Puebloans 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.

Many tribe members have modern homes, on reservation land outside the walled village, but members return to the village for social and cultural celebrations. The reservation adjoining the pueblo is approximately 95,000 acres.

History

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 with the capital of Santa Fe captured by the US. The 1847 Taos Revolt by native and Hispanic forces, who were 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. The governing body consists of three parts: Governor, Warchief and Tribal Council. The Governor and Warchief are appointed annually. The Tribal Council members serve for their lifetime and must have worked on the staff of the Governor or the Warchief. The pueblo is also subject to state and federal laws as those apply to reservations.

Sidetrip – San Francisco De Asis Church (in Taos)

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

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 is popular with photographers. It is a National Historic Landmark.

Know before you go

When to visit

The Pueblo is generally open to the public daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm except when required to close for community events and ceremonies. In late winter/early spring the Pueblo closes for about ten weeks. Visiting is allowed on Feast Days when special rules apply. See Taos Pueblo for closure dates and Feast Days. 

Parking and Admission Fee

Free parking is available outside of the walled pueblo.  You will be directed to a lot where you may park. An admission fee applies and is paid at the admissions building , the adobe walls. Check the website for the current fee.

Time of Visit

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

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.

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