No matter what the calendar may say, spring always arrives in Las Vegas in February, bringing with it two contradictory impulses: plant the home garden and see the world beyond the city. I indulged in both activities, leaving this poor blog to fend for itself, but now there’s time, dear readers, to catch you up with my stories before I take off again at the end of March for a trip to the East Coast.
February’s travels took me to Albuquerque, and I took this opportunity to explore Native American culture and history. One highlight of this trip was my afternoon at Acoma Pueblo, and it turns out that the Sky City Casino along Interstate 40 is NOT the most interesting attraction of this locale. Taking the highway exit designated for the Haak’u Museum, I found the Sky City Cultural Center, debarkation point for the guided tours of the historical Sky City atop a nearby mesa.
My traveling companions and I joined a tour group of about 25 people, and we were taken to Sky City in a small bus. As we walked along narrow, rutted and rocky dirt streets, our guide explained the origins, history, and culture of the Acoma people. Sky City contains a large number of multi-story stone and adobe houses, as well as a centuries-old Catholic mission church and its cemetery, both still in use. Photographs were permitted of anything not associated with the church’s interior or the cemetery entire: the Acoma people maintain a firm commitment to their culture’s sacred teachings and traditions, which include preserving the sanctity of ritual spaces.
Even though the church and the cemetery were off limits, I found many interesting subjects to photograph. Today’s posting shares the highlights of my visit and, hopefully, helps you imagine Acoma daily life at Sky City. For instance, when you notice all the stone blocks used to build the houses, consider the weight of each one and the fact that all had to be transported to the mesa top from a quarry site in the valley below. The tall logs comprising the ladders people still use to get into their houses also had to be brought to the mesa top from the pine forests of Kaweshtima (what we call Mt. Taylor), many miles away. What I could not photograph at Sky City were wells or aqueducts that supplied the community with water: they don’t exist! Although wooden drains in the church walls suggest that rain water could have been harvested, the people’s daily water needs could only be supplied by the laborious carrying of water up the cliffs from springs in the valley below. Despite these difficulties, Acoma people accepted (and still cherish) their mesa-top home and its way of life as gifts of the Creator.
When I look at all the problems of the modern world–from global warming to community violence and government dysfunction, to name only three–I begin to wonder whether we could learn some life-saving lessons from the Acoma people. You can explore Acoma Pueblo for yourself, now offering daily tours from March through November 2013. If you’re interested in purchasing Acoma pottery direct from the artists, touring the Pueblo is a great way to accomplish this goal.