One of the obligatory stops in Taos is the Pueblo. I went on Wednesday, before coming home.
It was designated in 1992 by UNESCO as the First Living World Heritage Site. It’s also a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register. Why? Because it is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US. This building and its southern counterpart are estimated to be about 1000 years old.
The native people who live here today are the descendants of the tribe who lived there 1000 years ago. The Pueblo maintains a restriction of no running water and no electricity.
But, as is often the case in these situations, this is an odd bit of restriction. During my visit I saw an elderly gentleman walking down the dusty road carrying a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken under his arm. It was an odd juxtaposition – this gentleman with a traditional blanket flapping in the breeze as he walked purposefully, carrying fast food.
While there is no electricity, there are plenty of propane tanks. I’m not sure those were there 1000 years ago. They say the only difference is the doorways, which were introduced by the Spanish, although the traditional roof holes and ladders remain. Somehow I think doorways are not the only change.
And I haven’t even mentioned the casino yet, that you can find just a little bit away from the pueblo, which is in the beautiful foothills. Or the very modern rest room facilities that are outside the gate. Not that I’m complaining of the visitor facilities – I made use of them myself – but there was definitely running water. Thank Goodness.
When you arrive, you pay $10 for an entrance fee and an additional $5 for your still camera and another $5 if you have a video camera. I don’t mind the fees. At all.
And the first thing I saw after paying my money made me very happy that I had paid the extra $5 to take photos – the cemetery.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned here before about my love of cemeteries. I’ve visited some fabulous ones. This one was amazing.
It is built on the site of the old San Geronimo Church. Although the church is nothing but ruins – a new church was built in 1850 – the cemetery is still in use. Now, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out if people have been living here for 1000 years and using the same cemetery, it’s going to fill up in none too many years.
Well, these ingenious people came up with a wonderful solution. The system is simple – when the cross marking your grave falls over, that indicates that the space is available for use. The bodies are buried one on top of the other. It’s a brilliant solution as far as I’m concerned, but I guess some Catholic visitors have had some difficulty with the concept.
People are not buried in caskets, even though the church still has the ceremonial casket placed in missions to encourage natives to conform to Catholic funeral practices. Not these folks. They still bury in native regalia, wrapped in blankets, one on top of the other. When your cross falls over, it’s removed and laid on the ruins of the old church. Apparently it’s about a 75 year turn over.
The fact that some are now using headstones is going to mess with the system. They’re contemplating how to handle that. But, the variety of wooden crosses, all hand made, are an amazing site to see.
The religion is an interesting mix – they are Catholic but also maintain their earth worship. I wish I could show you a photo of the inside of the new church, which is just lovely, but no photos are allowed. It has the traditional niches with Mary and others, but the walls are painted with beautiful earth symbols too – the Sun and moon, corn, squash, pumpkins, etc. It is gorgeous. Stunningly beautiful in its simplicity. But a perfect reminder that these people effortlessly blend two religions while most of us can’t even manage one.
The “new” church is a wonderful structure. Don’t miss the hand hewn marks on the wooden support posts at the back of the church. And do leave some time for soaking up the details of the altar area with its Catholic symbols and very intact Earth worship.
It’s a gorgeous setting, with a creek running through that provides all the drinking water for the pueblo. Red Willow Creek divides the pueblo into the north and south sides, with wooden foot bridges that connect them. Water is carried to the homes by pottery and pails. The creek comes from a sacred source known as Blue Lake. Because it and the surrounding area are sacred, non-tribal members are not allowed into these areas.
You can get a tour from a local college student. It was my guide who explained that the buildings are made of the adobe bricks and then recoated each year with the mud and straw mixture. You can see it crumbling in places, which is why it’s redone each year. Of course, the buildings keep growing in size. Some walls are over 2 feet thick now.
The North and South buildings now have shops in the lower floors. You can buy jewelry and various crafts. It’s obvious that tourism has become a business here, but it’s still in its infancy.
I fear what tourism will do to this place in another 20 years.