Of the eight northern pueblos, Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, and Santa Clara are within about 30 miles of Santa Fe. Picuris (San Lorenzo) is on the High Road to Taos, and Taos Pueblo is just outside the town of Taos.
The six pueblos described in this section can easily be visited in a single day's round-trip from Santa Fe, though I suggest visiting just the two that really give a feel of the ancient lifestyle: San Ildefonso, with its broad plaza, and San Juan, the birthplace of Po'Pay, who led the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In an easy day trip from Santa Fe you can take in both, with some delicious New Mexican food in Española en route. If you're in the area at a time when you can catch certain rituals, that's when to see some of the other pueblos.
Pueblo Etiquette -- There are personal dwellings and/or important historic sites at pueblos that must be respected as such. Don't climb on the buildings or peek into doors or windows. Don't enter sacred grounds, such as cemeteries and kivas. If you attend a dance or ceremony, remain silent while it is taking place and refrain from applause when it's over. Many pueblos prohibit photography or sketches; others require you to pay a fee for a permit. If you don't respect the privacy of the Native Americans who live at the pueblo, you'll be asked to leave.
The Great Pueblo Revolt -- By the 17th century, the Spanish subjugation of the Native Americans in the region had left them virtual slaves, forced to provide corn, venison, cloth, and labor. They were forced to participate in Spanish religious ceremonies and to abandon their own religious practices. Under no circumstances were their ceremonies allowed; those caught participating in them were punished. In 1676, several Puebloans were accused of sorcery and jailed in Santa Fe. Later they were led to the plaza, where they were flogged or hanged. This incident became a turning point in Indian-Spanish relations, generating an overwhelming feeling of rage in the community. One of the accused, a San Juan Pueblo Indian named Po'Pay, became a leader in the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which led to freedom from Spanish rule for 12 years.
Tesuque (Te-soo-keh) Pueblo is about 9 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285. You'll know that you're approaching the pueblo when you see a large store near the highway. If you're driving north and you get to the unusual Camel Rock and a large roadside casino, you've missed the pueblo entrance.
The 800 pueblo dwellers at Tesuque are faithful to their traditional religion, rituals, and ceremonies. Excavations confirm that a pueblo has existed here at least since the year A.D. 1200; accordingly, this pueblo is now on the National Register of Historic Places. When you come to the welcome sign at the pueblo, turn right, go a block, and park on the right. You'll see the plaza off to the left. There's not a lot to see; in recent years renovation has brought a new look to some of the homes around it. There's a big open area where dances are held and the San Diego Church, completed in 2004 on the site of an 1888 structure that burned down recently. It's the fifth church on the pueblo's plaza since 1641. Visitors are asked to remain in this area.
Some Tesuque women are skilled potters; Ignacia Duran's black-and-white and red micaceous pottery and Teresa Tapia's miniatures and pots with animal figures are especially noteworthy. You'll find many crafts at a gallery on the plaza's southeast corner. The San Diego Feast Day, which may feature harvest, buffalo, deer, flag, or Comanche dances, is November 12.
The Tesuque Pueblo's address is Route 5, Box 360-T, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (tel. 505/983-2667). Admission to the pueblo is free; however, there is a $20 charge for use of still cameras; special permission is required for filming, sketching, and painting. The pueblo is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Camel Rock Casino (tel. 505/984-8414; www.camelrockcasino.com) is open Sunday to Wednesday from 8am to 4am, and Thursday to Saturday for 24 hours; it has a snack bar on the premises.
About 6 miles farther north of Tesuque Pueblo on US 84/285, at the junction of NM 502, Pojoaque (Po-hwa-keh) Pueblo provides a roadside peek into Pueblo arts. Though small (pop. 2,712) and without a definable village (more modern dwellings exist now), Pojoaque is important as a center for traveler services; in fact, Pojoaque, in its Tewa form, means "water-drinking place." The historical accounts of the Pojoaque people are sketchy, but we do know that in 1890 smallpox took its toll on the Pojoaque population, forcing most of the pueblo residents to abandon their village. Since the 1930s, the population has gradually increased, and in 1990, a war chief and two war captains were appointed. Today, visitors won't find much to look at, but the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum, on US 84/285, operated by the pueblo, features a museum, a cultural center, and artists' studios. It's situated within a complex of adobe buildings, including the three-story Sun Tower. There are frequent artist demonstrations, exhibitions, and, in the warmer months, traditional ceremonial dances. Indigenous pottery, embroidery, silverwork, and beadwork are available for sale at the Pojoaque Pueblo Visitor Center nearby.
If you leave US 84/285 and travel on the frontage road back to where the pueblo actually was, you'll encounter lovely orchards and alfalfa fields backed by desert and mountains. There's a modern community center near the site of the old pueblo and church. On December 12, the annual feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe features a buffalo dance.
The pueblo's address is Route 11, Box 71, Santa Fe, NM 87506 (tel. 505/455-2278). The pueblo is open every day during daylight hours. The Poeh Center is at 78 Cities of Gold Rd. (tel. 505/455-3334; www.poehcenter.com). Admission is free. Open daily 8am to 5pm. Sketching, photography, and filming are prohibited.
Owned by the pueblo, the new Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder Resort (tel. 800/HILTONS [445-8667]; http://www.hiltonworldresorts.com/resorts/SantaFe/index.html) was, at press time, scheduled to open in late 2008. Located on Pojoaque Pueblo, the luxury resort has the 36-hole Towa golf course, a casino, horseback riding, and many other amenities.
If you're still on US 84/285, continue north from Pojoaque about 3 miles until you come to NM 503; turn right, and travel until you see the Bureau of Reclamation sign for Nambe Falls; turn right on NP 101. Approximately 2 miles farther is Nambe ("mound of earth in the corner"), a 700-year-old Tewa-speaking pueblo (pop. 500), with a solar-powered tribal headquarters, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range. Only a few original pueblo buildings remain, including a large round kiva, used today in ceremonies. Pueblo artisans make woven belts, beadwork, and brown micaceous pottery. One of my favorite reasons for visiting this pueblo is to see the small herd of bison that roams on 179 acres set aside for them.
Nambe Falls make a stunning three-tier drop through a cleft in a rock face about 4 miles beyond the pueblo. You can reach the falls via a 15-minute hike on a rocky, clearly marked path that leaves from the picnic area. A recreational site at the reservoir offers fishing, boating (non-motor boats only), hiking, camping, and picnicking. The Waterfall Dances on July 4 and the Saint Francis of Assisi Feast Day on October 4, which has buffalo and deer dances, are observed at the pueblo. Recent dry weather has caused cancellations; before setting out, call the pueblo.
The address is Route 1, Box 117-BB, Santa Fe, NM 87506 (tel. 505/455-2036, or 505/455-2304 for the Ranger Station). Admission to the pueblo is free, but there is a $10 charge for taking photographs. Filming and sketching are prohibited. The pueblo is open daily 8am to 5pm. The recreational site is open 8am to 8pm April 1 through October 1.
San Ildefonso Pueblo
Pox Oge, as San Ildefonso Pueblo is called in its own Tewa language, means "place where the water cuts down through," possibly named such because of the way the Rio Grande cuts through the mountains nearby. Turn left on NM 502 at Pojoaque, and drive about 6 miles to the turnoff. This pueblo has a broad, dusty plaza, with a kiva on one side, ancient dwellings on the other, and a church at the far end. It's nationally famous for its matte-finish, black-on-black pottery, developed by tribeswoman María Martinez in the 1920s. One of the most visited pueblos in northern New Mexico (pop. 1,524), San Ildefonso attracts more than 20,000 visitors a year.
The San Ildefonsos could best be described as rebellious because this was one of the last pueblos to succumb to the reconquest spearheaded by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692. Within view of the pueblo is the volcanic Black Mesa, a symbol of the San Ildefonso people's strength. Through the years, each time San Ildefonso felt itself threatened by enemy forces, the residents, along with members of other pueblos, would hide out up on the butte, returning to the valley only when starvation set in. Today, a visit to the pueblo is valuable mainly in order to see or buy rich black pottery. A few shops surround the plaza, and there's the San Ildefonso Pueblo Museum tucked away in the governor's office beyond the plaza. I especially recommend visiting during ceremonial days. San Ildefonso Feast Day, on January 23, features the buffalo and Comanche dances in alternate years. Corn dances, held in late August or early September, commemorate a basic element in pueblo life, the importance of fertility in all creatures -- humans as well as animals -- and plants.
The pueblo has a 4 1/2-acre fishing lake that is surrounded by bosque (Spanish for "forest"), open April to October. Picnicking is encouraged, though you may want to look at the sites before you decide to stay; some are nicer than others. Camping is not allowed.
The pueblo's address is Route 5, Box 315A, Santa Fe, NM 87506 (tel. 505/455-3549). The admission charge is $5 per car. The charge for taking photographs is $10; you'll pay $20 to film and $25 to sketch. If you plan to fish, the charge is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children 11 and under, but you'll want to call to be sure the lake is open. The pueblo is open in the summer, daily, from 8am to 5pm; call for weekend hours. In the winter, it's open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4:30pm. It's closed for major holidays and tribal events.
Ohkay Owinge (San Juan Pueblo)
If you continue north on US 84/285, you will reach San Juan Pueblo, now renamed in Tewa language Ohkay Owinge, via NM 74, a mile off NM 68, about 4 miles north of Española.
The largest (pop. 6,748) and northernmost of the Tewa-speaking pueblos and headquarters of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, San Juan is on the east side of the Rio Grande -- opposite the 1598 site of San Gabriel, the first Spanish settlement west of the Mississippi River and the first capital of New Spain. In 1598, the Spanish, impressed with the openness and helpfulness of the people of San Juan, decided to establish a capital there (it was moved to Santa Fe 10 years later), making San Juan Pueblo the first to be subjected to Spanish colonization. The Indians were generous, providing food, clothing, shelter, and fuel -- they even helped sustain the settlement when its leader Conquistador Juan de Oñate became preoccupied with his search for gold and neglected the needs of his people.
The past and present cohabit here. Though many of the tribe members are Catholics, most of the San Juan tribe still practice traditional religious rituals. Thus, two rectangular kivas flank the church in the main plaza, and caciques (pueblo priests) share power with civil authorities. The annual San Juan Fiesta is held June 23 and 24; it features buffalo and Comanche dances. Another annual ceremony is the turtle dance on December 26. The Matachine dance, performed here Christmas Day, vividly depicts the subjugation of the Native Americans by the Catholic Spaniards.
The address of the pueblo is P.O. Box 1099, San Juan Pueblo, NM 87566 (tel. 505/852-4400 or 505/852-4210). Admission is free. Photography or sketching may be allowed for a fee with prior permission from the governor's office. For information, call the number above. The charge for fishing is $8 for adults and $5 for children and seniors. The pueblo is open every day during daylight hours.
The Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council (tel. 505/747-1593) is a sort of chamber of commerce and social-service agency.
Fishing and picnicking are encouraged at the San Juan Tribal Lakes, open year-round. Ohkay Casino (tel. 505/747-1668; www.ohkay.com) offers table games and slot machines, as well as live music nightly Tuesday through Saturday. It's open 24 hours on weekends.
Santa Clara Pueblo
Close to Española (on NM 5), Santa Clara, with a population of about 1,944, is one of the largest pueblos. You'll see the village sprawling across the river basin near the beautiful Black Mesa, rows of tract homes surrounding an adobe central area. Although it's in an incredible setting, the pueblo itself is not much to see; however, a trip through it will give a real feel for the contemporary lives of these people. Though stories vary, the Santa Clarans teach their children that their ancestors once lived in cliffside dwellings named Puye and migrated down to the river bottom in the 13th century. This pueblo is noted for its language program. Artisan elders work with children to teach them their native Tewa language, on the brink of extinction because so many now speak English. This pueblo is also the home of noted potter Nancy Youngblood, who comes from a long line of famous potters and now does alluring contemporary work.
Follow the main route to the old village, where you come to the visitor center, also known as the neighborhood center. There you can get directions to small shops that sell distinctive black incised Santa Clara pottery, red burnished pottery, baskets, and other crafts. One stunning sight here is the cemetery. Stop on the west side of the church and look over the 4-foot wall. It's a primitive site, with plain wooden crosses and some graves adorned with plastic flowers.
There are corn and harvest dances on Santa Clara Feast Day (Aug 12); information on other special days (including the corn or harvest dances, as well as children's dances) can be obtained from the pueblo office.
The famed Puye Cliff Dwellings are on the Santa Clara reservation.
The pueblo's address is P.O. Box 580, Española, NM 87532 (tel. 505/753-7326). Admission is free. The charge for taking photographs is $5; filming and sketching are not allowed. The pueblo is open every day from 9am to 4pm.
Puye Cliff Dwellings
Well worth visiting, the Puye Cliff Dwellings offer a view of centuries of culture so well preserved you can almost hear ancient life clamoring around you. Unfortunately, fires devastated the area, so Santa Clara has closed the ruins and recreation area indefinitely. Call before setting out.
If you do get to see them, you'll first encounter dwellings believed to have been built around 1450. Above, on a 200-foot cliff face, are dwellings dating from 1200. By 1540, this community's population was at its height, and Puye was the center for a number of villages of the Pajarito Plateau. Today, this settlement, which typifies Pajaritan culture in the placement of its houses and its symbolic decorations, is a series of rooms and caves reached by sturdy ladders and steps that visitors can climb up and down, clambering in and out of the homes.
If you would like to visit the cliff dwellings, call tel. 505/753-7326 for opening times and admissions information (before the area was closed, admission was $6 for adults, $5 for children and seniors). To reach Puye: At the intersection of NM 502 and NM 30, head north for 4 miles to Indian Rd. 601. Travel this paved road for 7 miles.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.