Southwest trip day 10: Acoma Pueblo, NM

Today destination was Acoma Pueblo, about an hour west of Albuquerque. The Acoma people (pronounced “ACK-uh-mah”) have lived in this area since the early 9th century. Also known as “Sky City,” Acoma Pueblo is located on top of an isolated 365 ft. mesa that provided perfection protection for its inhabitants. Until the 20th century, the only access was via a steep footpath; now a paved road allows automobile access to residents and the small vans used for tours.


View of Acoma Pueblo from the Sky City Cultural Center

Since Acoma Pueblo is located on tribal land, access is restricted. The only way to visit the village is by joining a tour from the Sky City Cultural Center. Several small vans bring visitors to the top of the mesa. An official tour guide leads the group through the pueblo, explaining the history and traditions of the Acoma.


Sky City Cultural Center at the base of the mesa

Our tour started near this pond, one of three on the mesa. Our guide said that this pond was completely dry three weeks ago but that monsoon season had started since then (as we were to experience first hand at the very of our tour). Rain water is the only water source in the pueblo; there is neither running water nor electricity.


Rain water pond in Acoma Pueblo

Only about 50 people live in Sky City year round but many families maintain a home in the pueblo (there are about 200 houses in total). Acoma society is matriarchal so property is passed down from the mother to her youngest daughter; if there is no younger daughter, property goes to the mother’s youngest son.


Typical house with a panoramic view of the surrounding buttes and mesas


The wall on the left is stacked brick, the one on the right is typical adobe


Adobe oven


View from the mesa

The views from the top of the mesa were breathtaking. Wherever I looked, there was a photograph begging to be taken.


Road that goes up to Sky City


LEFT: View of a distant mesa from the Sky City mesa
RIGHT: These yuccas were the only succulents I saw in the pueblo. Acoma artists use yucca fibers to draw fine-line designs on their pottery.

The next photo shows one of my favorite scenes: The ladders allow access to kivas, structures (or in this case rooms) used for sacred ceremonies. Our guide explained that the pueblo’s main kiva was destroyed by the Spanish missionaries in the 1620s, to be replaced by the mission church which still stands today (see further down).


Kiva ladders

Throughout the pueblo Acoma artists and craftsman had stands selling their products. In addition to the expected tourist souvenirs, there was a surprising number of high-quality pieces, especially hand-made pottery. This potter’s creations were particularly impressive because of the intricate lines of her designs.


Acoma potter Shdiya’aitsa

As we got to this pond, about 45 minutes into our tour, the clouds had begun to turn much darker, making for a very dramatic sky.


Another rain water pond

And the sky kept turning darker the closer we got to the mission church.


San Esteban Del Rey Mission Church

San Esteban Del Rey Mission Church was founded in 1629 and is remarkably well preserved for its age. I was very surprised to see that the floor of the church is hard-packed dirt—the same as the ground outside. I was not allowed to take photos inside, but it is fairly sparse, as befits a mission church. According to our guide, only two services are held in the church these days: one on the Feast of San Esteban on September 2 and one at Christmas.


San Esteban Del Rey Mission Church

As we were leaving the church, it started to rain—first gently and within a minute more heavily. Since this was the end of our tour, the timing couldn’t have been better. Our guide called for the van and soon we were being whisked down the mountain back to the Cultural Center. I meant to take a few more photos of Sky City from the bottom but I scratched that idea and opted to make a mad dash for the car instead.

As much as I enjoyed our visit to Taos Pueblo yesterday, I think Sky City is even more impressive because of its isolated location.

Tomorrow we continue to Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation.





  1. I hope you bought something off that potter. They looked fantastic. Bill

    1. Second this!

      Those views were fantastic too!

    2. Yep, Heather bought small cat figurines for the girls. I wanted one of those intricately painted pots but by then we'd spent all our cash on other pottery :-).

  2. Looks fantastic again Gerhard, and yay for paved roads!!

    1. When you cover such large distances you definitely appreciate modern conveniences. For me, there is no better way to explore a country than by car. You can stop whenever something interesting catches your eye and, most importantly, you can bring back stuff. Fortunately, all the roads we've been on have been very good, even minor ones.


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