Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque

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We’ve been in Albuquerque for a few days now and have really enjoyed this city. It’s a large, sprawling place with a smaller-city feel. Lots of museums and art, great southwestern architecture and an easy-to-learn grid system of roadways. Something that has made an impression on us in the southwest is the condition of the interstates. Painted and/or decorated bridges are common, as well as the embankments on either side of a bridge. In Albuquerque, even the median dividers are beautifully planted gardens. Even the airport is a pleasure the drive around as it’s very well planned and marked, and there are large Indian pots and other pieces of sculpture decorating the roadway. 


We connected with Aunt Diane and Bosha and spent a few hours at The Gathering of Nations powwow, one of the largest in the world attracting representatives of more than 700 tribes from the US and Canada. It was an explosion of color and costume, and we saw both ceremonial and social dance forms. It’s so impressive to see how the Indian descendants hold onto their heritage and make sure it continues to be passed onto future generations.


On Diane and Bosha’s strong recommendation, we drove to a place called Sky City on the Acoma tribe’s reservation. It is a fascinating pueblo built on top of a mesa. There is no electricity or running water in this village, and while most of the Acoma have moved off the mesa into more modern structures, there are still about 30 families residing in the pueblo. Many of them have been artisans for generations, mostly potters, and their pottery is exquisite. The children start learning to shape the traditional coiled pots at a young age, and it’s amazing how many truly talented artists there are in the Sky City! 

The only way to see Sky City is by taking a tour with an Acoma guide, which we did. We learned the history of the people and how they searched for their spiritual home for generations before building on the top of this mesa. Originally, the only way to the top of the mesa was by foot and handholds, then stairways fashioned into the side of the cliffs; there is only one stairway remaining. In the 1940’s the movie “Sundown” filmed some scenes at Acoma and they built the steep road up to the pueblo which is now used by residents and the small tour bus.


Look at the detail! All hand carved and constructed.


Ladder to ceremonial kiva.


Fading painted design on this doorway header.


Pueblos did not have doors, you entered through a smoke hole in the roof via ladder and used ladders, or sometimes narrow stairs, to reach the roof. The windows and doors have been added in recent times.


A young resident. No running water, no electricity to power those electronic devices that other kids can’t live without!


A bread oven, still in use today.

Bob and Maureen went for the full bang for their bucks and took the stairs down from the mesa!  (Top left photo is our guide, Big Roadrunner Little Eagle, showing where the stairs begin, if anyone is brave enough to walk down them!)


The history of Sky City is a sad one. After multiple battles with the Spanish conquistadors, they were finally defeated. The Spanish Catholic Church arrived and meted out punishments for fighting back … every man over the age of 25 years old had his right foot amputated and they were all forced into slavery for 20 years. Males aged 12–25 and females over 12 were taken from their parents and enslaved to government officials and various missions for 20 years. Two Indian men who had been visiting Acoma from other pueblos had their right hands cut off and were sent home as a warning of the consequences for resisting the Spanish.

Back down at Sky City Cultural Center, while I waited for Bob and Maureen to descend the mesa, I met Sharon Miller, who had set up a table of her original pottery for sale. Sharon is the fifth generation in her family and one of the Acoma women who still make pottery in the traditional way with natural clay and pigments. She is a master at her craft. The detail is exquisite, and each piece tells a story. She showed me various pieces, one being a wedding vase that includes a bear to symbolize the strength of the husband and a butterfly for the beauty of the bride. A spider web symbolizes protection; the rabbit, fertility; the kokopelli brings rain for the crops; the turtle represents long life; the deer, abundant food; the lizard, good luck. Other plants and symbols decorate the piece, as well as a ribbon dotted with bear claw symbols. Sharon explained that her grandmother used to tell her “your life will never be a straight path, it will be crooked and have ups and downs, but that is the path of life.” So, she weaves a ribbon through many of her pots in honor of her grandmother. The bear claw honors the clan of the bear, of which she is a member. 


In Acoma society, all property belongs to the women. Property will be passed down to the youngest daughter — it is assumed the youngest daughter will outlive and take care of the rest of the family. If there is no daughter, a son will inherit property, which is then passed on to his daughter. Men are responsible for governing. 

We also spent a day driving The Turquoise Trail, a scenic road from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. We enjoyed the town of Madrid, which was a thriving mining town in it’s day, but as the coal industry faded, so did the town. As happened with many old mining towns in the west, artists eventually moved in so Madrid is now a thriving artists’ colony. We poked around Santa Fe a little bit and visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum, it rain shortened our visit. We are hoping to be able to see more of Santa Fe when we leave Albuquerque in a few days. 


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