I zig-zagged up the narrow two-lane mountain highway leaving behind daylight. The climb seemed almost never-ending. Each switch back led me to another until I had finally reached the town of Taos New Mexico. It was late in the night when we arrived to the hotel. As soon as I opened the car door an unwanted rush of cold air filled the car. Our mountainous climb had brought us to a staggering 6,967 feet in elevation (2,124 m).
The next morning brought no further comfort from the cold. I bundled myself up and prepared for a tour of the Taos Pueblo. As I stood waiting for the tour to begin, wishing I had a hat, I chatted with a fellow tour goer. I suddenly felt like a pampered princess when he told me that he had camped out overnight. I could barely keep my teeth from chattering and this modern-day mountain man just put my pansy ass to shame.
The tour gathered outside the San Geronimo Chapel. Once our guide, Elliot, arrived we funneled inside the church and began to learn the history of the people who inhabited the village. The building we were standing in was fairly young in years, compared to the rest of the structures at the pueblo. San Geronimo Chapel was constructed in 1850. Most of the structures at the Pueblo were built between 1000 to 1450 A.D.
The San Geronimo Chapel was not the first church at the Pueblo. Ruminates of another church can be found at the west end of the site. The original church was constructed in 1619. It was destroyed in 1680 during the Spanish Revolt, however reconstructed at the same site and stood until 1847. A heart-wrenching story unfolded as our guide told us of the final demise of the church during the Mexican-American War.
Charles Bent, the newly appointed governor of the New Mexico Territory, had created many local enemies during the Mexican-American War. This also included the Taos Tribe. As tensions raised a group, led by Pablo Montoya and Tomas Romero, from the Pueblo, located Bent and assassinated him.
Retaliation for Bent’s death ensued with an attack on the Taos Pueblo by the US Army. During the siege women and children from the Pueblo hid inside the church for safety. Their attempt to seek sanctuary was futile and ended with over 100 Pueblo Natives being killed that day and the church destroyed. The area has since been used as a burial ground for the Pueblo.
Elliot led us out of the church and we weaved our way throughout the active community. It was slightly odd for me, wandering through the pueblo, as the inhabitants went about their daily lives. Since the pueblo is open most of the year I am guessing the people who live there are use to seeing tourists walk through, but it struck me as uncomfortable. Not that the people who lived there made me uncomfortable, but I felt uncomfortable for them. I would not want to open my home up for people to walk through. Although if my home was of historical significance perhaps I would feel different.
As we stood outside one of the adobe walled homes, we learned that there are no modern conveniences in these homes, such as running water or electricity. The homes are passed down from generation to generation and the upkeep is the responsibility of the family. Traditional building practices are still observed. Some improvements such as chicken wire being added inside the walls for strength and rain gutters to take the moisture away from the structures have been allowed.
The Taos Tribe keep their traditions alive by maintaining the Pueblo for future generations. The tribe has about 100,000 acres inclusive of Blue Lake, a sacred area for the tribe, that was at one point was in danger of becoming public lands. President Nixon, during his administration, signed the land back over to the tribe to protect it from destruction of over use. The Blue Lake feeds into the Red Willow Creek, which is a main source of water for the tribe.
The tribe also keeps their traditions alive by teaching their young their native language, Tiwa. The language is not written down, only taught by speaking the language. Most of the tribe speaks both English and Tiwa, however when speaking with the elders of the tribe Tiwa is spoken as a form of respect.
The 45 minute tour wrapped up and disbursed near the Red Willow Creek. Our guide let us know we were free to explore the grounds for as long as we desired. A self-guided tour is also available, however I recommend taking the guided tour. The information from the guides is far more extensive then what you would be able to get from taking a self-guided tour. Be sure to bring some cash with you to tip your tour guide. Although not required, cash tips are customary for the guides, who volunteer their time giving tours.
Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO site. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Living in the United States I have not seen many UNESCO sites. There are not a lot of UNESCO sites, only 23, in the United States as of 2016. There are a total of 1052 total UNESCO sites around the world. 11 of the 23 UNESCO sites in the United States are also National Parks. In order to be considered for selection to become a UNESCO site ten criteria for the site must meet. They do not need to meet them all, just one of the criteria. In order to be nominated the site must be of outstanding universal value. The Taos Pueblo became a UNESCO site in 1992.
The Taos Pueblo is located at 120 Veterans Highway near Taos New Mexico. The Pueblo is open Monday – Saturday 8 am to 4:30 pm and Sundays 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. The Pueblo does close for about 10 weeks a year in the spring time, so it is best to check their schedule to verify if they are open during the time you wish to visit.