Set at the base of the mountains that sit high above Taos, N.M., is the ancient home of the Taos Pueblo people. Northern New Mexico is home to 19 Pueblos, and Taos just might be the most famous because of its ancestral home. Taos Pueblo is the only inhabited property in the world listed on the UNESCO World Heritage site. And after spending a morning there exploring its beauty, listening to its people, and getting a tiny glimpse at their lives, it’s hard to leave this ancient land not in awe on so many levels.
As we drove north from our apartment just off the Taos Plaza, I was anxious for the visit. It’s hard to explain, really, but visiting Taos Pueblo had me a tiny bit nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. We would be visiting someone’s home. Would it be 20 people, 200, 1,000? I had no clue. And would we be just tolerated visitors, people walking around a sacred place who really didn’t belong?
The moment we pulled into the parking lot, any of those thoughts were erased with the friendly welcome by the man directing traffic. The woman working at the ticket office recognized our son from the restaurant in Taos the previous evening. Everyone we encountered inside Taos Pueblo was friendly: our tour guide, random shopkeepers, and random people we passed walking.
Then there was Mary Winters. Mary runs a cafe out of her family’s home in the Pueblo. We enjoyed New Mexicon Pinion coffee and the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had.
Mary’s little cafe had a few tables scattered about and a warm fire burning near the front door. We had a long conversation with her. She told us about her wonderful great-aunt who she had received the home at Taos Pueblo from, and she was especially proud of her sister, Patricia Michaels, a contestant on Season 11 of “Project Runway.”
Tours aren’t necessary, but they are free, and recommended. Our tour began outside the San Geronimo Chapel, the newest structure in Taos Pueblo, built in 1850. Because of how sacred the church is, no photography is allowed inside. But take my word for it: the interior is beautiful. Pueblo Indians practice Catholicism as well as the ancient Native religion.
The tour continues outside, where we are taken by some of the buildings (many on the north side seem to be off limits) and directed to the old church on the west side of the village that was destroyed in the Mexican-American War in 1847. The church remains as it was because it’s the final resting place of several Indians who were burned alive in the structure.
As the tour proceeds through the village, we learn about the history of the people and the adobe structures.
We see how they still bake foods in the traditional horno ovens outside.
It’s said that the Taos Pueblo has been lived in for some 1,000 years. The tour eventually ends just across from the historic center of the Taos Pueblo where we are left to roam the village freely.
We were welcomed by some of the village’s dogs near the river. There were several running around, but I couldn’t get enough of this beautiful Labrador mother.
And the river that runs through the village is vital. This is where the people get their drinking water. And I can see why.
As we wandered along the south side of the river, we made our way into a beautiful gallery filled with local art.
While our son played outside, we had a long conversation with the shop’s owner about the land and its meaning to the people. The people of Taos Pueblo don’t just love the land because it’s the trendy thing to do. It’s their responsibility. I got the sense that these people treat the Earth and all of nature with absolute reverence.
Many of the “homes,” by the way, today aren’t lived in on a continuous basis. Mary, for example, recently turned what had been her great-aunt’s home into the cafe. Mary and her family live away from Taos Pueblo; many homeowners do, in fact. But about 150 people still live inside the village.
The homes stay in the families and are passed down through generations. Some families keep the homes as gathering places, others run little shops or other businesses — like Mary’s cafe. And, yes, there are homes inside Taos Pueblo that are lived in.
We could have spent about 30 minutes at Taos Pueblo and left satisfied that we got a taste of this ancient place. But we spent a few hours there, certainly time well spent. Getting to know some of the people of Taos Pueblo made the journey a real experience.