History of the Acoma Pueblo

“No note taking.” Our tour guides tells me after I jotted down a couple thoughts as he began explaining the history of the Acoma Pueblo.

We are up high on a 367-foot sandstone bluff in a valley studded with sacred, towering monoliths in the desert of western New Mexico. This is the Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City—thought to be the oldest continually inhabited community in North America.

This was just one in a long list of rules. There are no tripods, video cameras, digital video cameras, cellular phone cameras, binoculars or audio recording devices allowed. Permits for cameras must be purchased at the Sky City Cultural Center prior to photographing on the Acoma lands.

Acoma Pueblo, perched atop a sheer-walled sandstone bluff, has been home to these Pueblo Indians since 1150 A.D.  The settlement’s inhabitants are known worldwide for their unique art and rich culture.

Unlike the nearby Taos Pueblo where modern construction methods are restricted, at Acoma Sky City people have more freedom for using modern construction methods and installing modern conveniences. But many here still build with adobe—which needs to be kept up year after year. Among the 250 dwellings, none have electricity, sewer, or water.

The tribe has 4,800 members, and most of them live off the bluff in the surrounding valleys in modern housing. Nearly all return for festivals and religious ceremonies.

In 1629, construction began on the Catholic San Esteban del Rey Mission.  Both the Mission and the Pueblo are Registered National Historical Landmarks.

Interesting stuff I remembered…(not by note taking)

  • The Horno—the earthen oven used by the Pueblo Indians was introduced by the Spanish. The Spanish were actually introduced to this stove by the Moors. The Acoma people cook corn in their oven, letting it sit overnight with juniper.
  • The Acoma traditionally used thin sheets of mica for their windows.
  • The Acoma make the yucca plant into paintbrushes. The yucca root is also pulverized to make shampoo and other cleaning agents.

More Information

Acoma Pueblo Sky City is open daily from 9am – 5pm.  Tours begin at 9:30am and continue throughout the day.  The final full tour of the day is conducted at 3:30pm. The Cafe hours are from 9am – 4:30pm.

After visiting Sky City on top of the mesa, check out Cultural Center down below where you buy the tickets.

A $20 entrance fee covers the tour, the cultural center museum, and camera permit.

Text and Photos by Stephen Bugno

See more photos from Acoma Pueblo below:

the church at Acoma Pueblo Sky City (2)

San Esteban Del Rey Mission church

Acoma pueblo pottery (2)

Acoma Pueblo pottery

an artisan and her work at Acoma Pueblo Sky City

An Acoma artist and her work

the view of Enchanted Mesa from Acoma Pueblo Sky City

View of Enchanted Mesa from Acoma Pueblo Sky City

a street at Acoma Pueblo Sky City

A street view at Acoma Pueblo Sky City

street view at Acoma Pueblo Sky City (2)

a structure at Acoma Pueblo Sky City (4)

a ladder at Acoma Pueblo Sky City

A ladder used to enter through the high door.

view north from Acoma Pueblo

View of the road leading up to Acoma Pueblo

Sky City Cultural Center

Sky City Cultural Center

Stephen Bugno drove 6,144 miles on the back roads of the US stopping for natural beauty, Indian Reservations, and cool small towns. He blogs at BohemianTraveler and edits the GoMad Nomad Travel Mag.