It's amazing that in our frenetic world more than 100 Taos Pueblo residents still live much as their ancestors did 1,000 years ago. When you enter the pueblo, you'll see two large buildings, both with rooms piled on top of each other, forming structures that echo the shape of Taos Mountain (which sits to the northeast). Here, a portion of Taos residents lives without electricity and running water. The remaining 2,000 residents of Taos Pueblo live in conventional homes on the pueblo's 95,000 acres.
The main buildings' distinctive flowing lines of shaped mud, with a straw-and-mud exterior plaster, are typical of Pueblo architecture throughout the Southwest. It's architecture that blends in with the surrounding land. Bright blue doors are the same shade as the sky that frames the brown buildings.
The northernmost of New Mexico's 19 pueblos, Taos Pueblo has been home to the Tiwa tribes for more than 900 years. Many residents here still practice ancestral rituals. The center of their world is still nature; women use hornos to bake bread, and most still drink water that flows down from the sacred Blue Lake. Meanwhile, arts and crafts and other tourism-related businesses support the economy, along with government services, ranching, and farming.
The village looks much the same today as it did when a regiment from Coronado's expedition first came upon it in 1540. Though the Tiwa were essentially a peaceful agrarian people, they are perhaps best remembered for spearheading the only successful revolt by Native Americans in history. Launched by Pope (Poh-pay) in 1680, the uprising drove the Spanish from Santa Fe until 1692 and from Taos until 1698.
As you explore the pueblo, you can visit the residents' studios, sample homemade bread, look into the San Geronimo Chapel, and wander past the fascinating ruins of the old church and cemetery. You're expected to ask permission from individuals before taking their photos; some will ask for a small payment. Do not trespass into kivas (ceremonial rooms) and other areas marked as restricted.
The Feast of San Geronimo (the patron saint of Taos Pueblo), on September 29 and 30, marks the end of the harvest season. The feast day is reminiscent of an ancient trade fair for the Taos Indians, when tribes from as far south as South America and as far north as the Arctic would come and trade for wares, hides, clothing, and harvested crops. The day is filled with foot races, pole climbing done by traditional Indian clowns, and artists and craftspeople mimicking the early traders. Dances are performed the evening of September 29. Other annual events include a turtle dance on New Year's Day, deer or buffalo dances on Three Kings Day (Jan 6), and corn dances on Santa Cruz Day (May 3), San Antonio Day (June 13), San Juan Day (June 24), Santiago Day (July 25), and Santa Ana Day (July 26). The annual Taos Pueblo Powwow, a dance competition and parade that brings together tribes from throughout North America, is held the second weekend of July on tribal lands off NM 522. The pueblo Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve, with bonfires and a procession with children's dances. On Christmas day, the deer or Matachine dances take place.
During your visit to the pueblo you will have the opportunity to purchase traditional fried and oven-baked bread as well as a variety of arts and crafts. If you would like to try traditional feast-day meals, the Tiwa Kitchen, near the entrance to the pueblo, is a good place to stop. Close to Tiwa Kitchen is the Oo-oonah Children's Art Center, where you can see the creative works of pueblo children.
As with many of the other pueblos in New Mexico, Taos Pueblo has opened a casino. Taos Mountain Casino (tel. 888/WIN-TAOS [946-8267]; www.taosmountaincasino.com) is on the main road to Taos Pueblo and features slot machines, blackjack, and poker.
Note: To learn more about the pueblo and its people, I highly recommend taking a 30-minute guided tour. Ask upon arrival when the next one will be given and where you should meet your guide.