The picturesque desert landscape some 60 miles west of Albuquerque, NM, is home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in America—Acoma Pueblo. The pueblo, founded in 1100, is a component of the Acoma Indian Reservation and is perched atop a 357-foot-tall shear-walled sandstone mesa.
Before modern times, access to the pueblo was possible only by climbing a precarious, hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone. Ancestral Puebloans in the southwest generally preferred elevated abodes as they were easier to defend.
Owing largely to the pueblo’s excellent defensive position, the Acoma were some of of the most resistant Native Americans when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the early 16th century. Missionaries soon followed to convert the obstinate Acoma to Catholicism and Spanish ways of life. The San Estévan del Rey Mission Church, an impressive work of adobe architecture, wasn’t completed until around 1640.
In the 21st century, the Acoma community is a rich cultural blend of Native pueblo, Spanish, and American customs. Although the full-time pueblo population is relatively small, several thousand Acoma descendants live in more modern villages on and off the reservation.
Today, Acoma Pueblo is a popular tourist destination also known by the moniker Sky City. Although there is now an earthen ramp for motorized vehicles to ascend onto the mesa, only authorized vehicles are allowed to do so.
Guided tours begin at the Sky City Cultural Center located on the desert floor below. In addition to selling tickets for the pueblo guided tour, the 40,000-square-foot facility includes the Haak’u Museum displaying Acoma artifacts, a cafe that sells both native Acoman and contemporary American fare, and a theater offering informative videos.
A short bus ride transports us visitors from the Sky City Cultural Center up to the Acoma Pueblo. Our tour guide is a member of the Acoma tribe. Although there is no running water, electricity, or restrooms in the pueblo structures, there are a couple of detached facilities with modern restrooms for residents.
As the tour proceeds through the streets of the Pueblo, our guide imparts tribal history and particulars about the pueblo’s architecture and Acoma artisans offer handmade articles for sale.
One reason the Acoma Puebloan culture has survived into the modern age is likely due to the tribe’s financial acumen. In addition to fees earned from guided tours, the tribe also operates the Sky City RV Park located on I-40 (exit 102) and the Sky City Casino Hotel, which includes the Sky City Travel Center.