Taos Pueblo



In north central New Mexico, Taos County. Closest city or town: Taos. Area (of reservation): 95,000 acres 148 square miles/ 384 km2). Mean elevation: 6,950 feet (2,118 m). Taos Plateau volcanic field relatively nearby.

36.43917N 105.54559W

Please note: Unlike most of the other sample diaries, this diary's pictures did not preserve its cache of photos. Ergo, it's all informative verbiage from here to the end. Regrets!

Claimed to be the most photographed residential structure in the Western Hemisphere. Tiwa-speaking Puebloans. Secretive traditions (much like the Hopis). Three different religions practiced. Largest extant multistory dwelling of its kind. A community oriented culture.

Focus: Human history, prehistoric to modern.

The elevated landmass of New Mexico's highest peak, Mt. Wheeler (13,167 feet/4,013 m), is a picturesque mountainous backdrop for this classic pueblo. Arguably, the pueblo is the most famous pueblo structure in all puebloan villages throughout the state. Taos, the town, occupies a total area of 5.4 square miles (14 km2), all of it located near the Rio Pueblo de Taos and situated on a tributary of the Rio Grande. Hence, the verdant scenery surrounding Taos. The origin of the word “Taos” means red willow, named for Red Willow Creek (or Rio Pueblo). This usually clear stream flows from its source in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, passing through the middle of the thousand-year-old pueblo. The reservation is attached to the pueblo where some 1,900 people live with the fortress-like structure. Taos Pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos: Picuris, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Nambé, Pojoaque and Tesuque. The linguistics of these Puebloans is Tiwa, a language family of the Kiowa-Tanoan. The Taos community is known for being one of the most secretive and conservative pueblos. The pueblo's most prominent architectural feature is a multistoried residential complex of reddish-brown adobe divided into two parts by the Rio Pueblo Creek. Its structure was probably built between 1000 and 1450. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, Taos Pueblo became a World Heritage Site in 1992. Blue Lake, which these Puebloans consider sacred, is in the Taos vicinity but strictly off limits to all outsiders.

In the Taos language, the pueblo is referred to as the village. The proper name is ȉałopháymųpʼȍhə́othə̀olbo, meaning “red willow canyon mouth." This impossible-to-pronounce name (for outsiders) is more commonly used in ceremonial contexts and is less spoken in everyday speech. Cultural scientists believe most Puebloans had settled along the Rio Grande after migrating from various sectors of the Four Corners region sometime after the late 1300s. Persistent dry conditions at the time may have been a factor in a subsequent mass emigration to the Rio Grande region, where water sources are dependable, yet thereʼs more to the story than this popular theory (see Book IIʼs GREAT DROUGHT Supplement). Other Ancestral Puebloans resettled in the New Mexicoʼs northern tier, such as these inhabitants of Taos Pueblo. (Indeed, if the pueblo is dated some one thousand years old, the Puebloans were here much earlier.) The history of the Taos Pueblo also includes the plotting of the now legendary Pueblo Revolt in 1680, which constituted a major uprising of many pueblos against Spanish colonization of the Americas and centered on the New Mexico territory.

Guided Tour Essentials
The North-Side Pueblo is said to be one of the most photographed structures in the Western Hemisphere, including artists who paint tableaus. Certainly, it's the largest multistoried Pueblo structure still existing. Entirely made of adobe, the structureʼs massive walls are several feet thick in places. The primary purpose for its size was for defense. Up to as late as 1900, access to the rooms on lower floors was by ladders on the outside to the roof, which led into the pueblo by means of descending ladders. In case of an attack, the outside ladders were retracted. Homes in this structure, or one might call them apartments, usually consist of two rooms. One room represents the general living space and sleeping quarters while the second is used for cooking, eating and storage. Each apartment is self-contained and there are no passageways between the separate apartments. Typically, Taos Indians in the past did not have large families. This arrangement is especially the case for those who preferred living in the puebloʼs compound. They also made little use of furniture, which todayʼs inhabitants possess some of the usual household furnishings. However, electricity, running water, toilets and indoor plumbing are prohibited inside the pueblo, thereby maintaining the antiquity of an already ancient dwelling. The wall of the superstructure pueblo completely encloses the compound except at the entrance, which serves as a symbol of the pueblo's boundaries. (The wall used to be much taller for reasons of protection against surrounding tribes.) The stream running through the pueblo serves as the primary source for drinking and cooking water. In the winter, the stream never completely freezes, yet forms a heavy layer of ice. Because the stream moves relatively swiftly, the ice can be broken to obtain fresh water beneath.

The Taos People
Three religions are represented in the Pueblo: the aboriginal religion, Christianity (mainly, Catholicism, and the later Native American Church which practices Peyotism (aka “Peyote religion”). This latter belief system originated in Oklahoma and quickly became the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans. Peyotism also involves the obvious use of peyote, derived from a spineless cactus that has an entheogen substance. In the strictest sense, entheogen is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic or spiritual context. Most entheogen substances do not produce drug dependency side effects. Apart from this religious sect, the majority of the Taos people subscribe to the Roman Catholic faith. Saint Jerome (Geronimo in Spanish) is their patron saint for the pueblo. Despite religious differences, there is a profound feeling of belonging to the Puebloan community, which is summed up in their phrase, We are in one nest. This succinct saying has held the Taos people together over the centuries. When needed, both men and women are expected to offer their services or perform community duties. One should therefore be cooperative and never allow his or her own desires to be destructive of the community's interest. The strongest institution in their belief system is the family unit. Descent on both the father's and the mother's side is equally recognized. Each primary family lives in a separate dwelling. When a couple gets married, they move to their own apartment within the compound. With relatives near by, everyone is available to help care for the children. The elderly teach the young the values and traditions that have been handed down, which protects their cultural integrity.

Special Significance Of Blue Lake
The Taos Puebloans, like many other Native Americans, believe their origins are from water, in this case the sacred waters of Blue Lake hidden in the mountains of northern New Mexico and relatively close to the pueblo. When one considers the Paleozoic Era's designate as Early Life, which spawned numerous aquatic life forms––the first real life forms on the planet––the leap to an evolutionary nexus with all other emerging life forms is more readily grasped. Ergo, the belief that one's people first emerged from the water as it did for the Taos Puebloans. Many cultures around the world also hold a similar fundamental belief of emergence concerning their origins. Some, like the Hopi Indians, who consider water a sacred element, trace their emergence from the underground portal called the Sipapu. For all the Ancestral Puebloans, the emergence from the third to the fourth World represents life apart from the underworld. Although the Taos Puebloans are very secretive about their religious beliefs, for them Blue Lake is also sacred. Thus their emergence from these waters is sacrosanct without further explanation to outsiders.

Bonus Details:
For more about the town of Taos, see ACCLAIMED CITIES OF THE SOUTHWEST Supplement.

Recommended Reading
  6. MEXICO-NEW MEXICO supplements.
Directions: From Santa Fe, take Hwy. 285 to Hwy. 68, and go straight to Taos (about 72 miles/115 km).

Contact Information: Taos Pueblo Tourism, P. O. Box 1846, Taos NM 85570. Phone: 575-758.1028 Fax and Email: non-listed.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.

Happy Trails!



Parting Shots