Acoma Pueblo Sky City offers affordable get away

Photos and Story By Renee Fajardo
Sky City, New Mexico (NFIC) 9-09

 The Acoma Pueblo Sky City.

The Acoma Pueblo is located 60 miles west of Albuquerque  New Mexico on Interstate 40 and  12 miles south on Indian Route 23. “Sky City” as it is known is the traditional home of the Acoma people.

It is built upon a 367-foot sandstone mesa and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.

Believed to have been established in the 12th century for defense against raiders, the sheer cliff walls of the mesa are as daunting today as they were hundreds of years ago. The word Acoma is believed to come from the Keresan word (the language spoken by people) haaku, meaning to prepare a place. And if you visit you will find a unique and exciting place has been prepared indeed.

The Acoma Sky City Hotel and Casino is the  commercial property of the pueblo. Located just off of I-40 it is a favorite with cross country travelers and local families for two reasons.

First the hotel is family friendly running great mid week deals. For a mere $45 per night, Sun-Thurs ($89 on weekends) a family of four can escape the heat of western New Mexico and relax pool side in Southwest style. The hotel lobby and room themes reflect the exquisite pottery motifs the Acoma are famous for and feature viga style balconies.

Secondly the Huawaka Restaurant has grand buffet three meals a day that is priced for families ( ranging in price from $5.99 to $18.00 for all you can eat crab Fridays). The casino is separated from the hotel, provides live bands on the weekends and star studded concerts through out the year.

While it would be easy to stay on property and kick back, no visit to the Acoma Nation is complete without a trip to the newly renovated Sky City Cultural Center and Haaku Museum. 

The cultural center attention to detail is astounding. From the hand carved doors, custom tiled floors, sculptured court yards, and muted window coverings (meant to simulate the mica windows of the pueblos) the center is a work of art all by itself created by Acoma artisans. The center was created to showcase the living culture of the Acoma people.

The museum currently has two exhibitions. The Matriarchs features four master Acoma potters and their families. These women, Lucy M. Lewis, Marie Z. Chino, Jessie Garcia and Juana Leno developed  and perfected the concentrically signature style of  Acoma pottery that is today collected by aficionados’ world wide.

The History and Restoration of the San Esteban  del Rey Del Mission 1700 - present is a fascinating look into the controversial and celebrated church that changed the lives of the Acoma.

While here do not forget to stop by the Yaak’a Café where Chef Jay Riley has created a traditional Acoma menu of blue corn pancakes, chicos and beans, nannas, hornos bread, roasted corn with cilantro infused butter, yeeshti feast plates.

  The Yaak'a Cafe located in the Acoma Cultural Center boast unique traditonal foods created by Chef Jay Riley.

It is here at the center that tours of the Sky City can be purchased ($20 adult/$10 child). Price includes bus ride to the mesa, private guide, a tour of historic San Esteban del Rey, a tour of the ancient pueblo dwellings, photo permits and some of the most breath views of Mr. Taylor and the surrounding plateaus.

The pueblo is still occupied and open year round although closed for certain ceremonial day. It is imperative that visitors adhere to posted protocol. No video cameras are allowed at all. 

Visitors can purchase pottery, textiles and the famous Acoma fruit pies and fry bread from residents. For Cultural Center hours and other information call 1-800-747-0181.

There are numerous side trip that are a must see when visiting the pueblo. The New Mexico Mining Museum in nearby Grants provides a history of the uranium boom that swept the southwest in the 1950s. The main floor of the museum has exhibits, relics, and videos about the general history of Grants and Cibola County. The main focus however is the uranium boom, and that’s where the mine comes in.

An elevator drops visitors below the building, when the door opens there is a complete recreation of an underground uranium mine. Mine locomotives and ore cars, muckers, drills, and other equipment are located in various places, with exhibit placards explaining how the ore was mined back in the days of the boom. A real thrill for old and young alike.

The El Malpais National Monument and park is located just off I-40 in near the Cibola National Forest.  Named for the Spanish word “badlands” this rugged and extremely rough land consist of massive lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges and complex lava tubes.     These flows fill a large basin rimmed by higher sandstone that forms large, wind-carved bluffs around much of the malpais. The terrain is so rocky in some parts that trails cannot be constructed in the usual manner;  cairns  have been constructed to guide hikers.

Acoma master potters Flo and Lee Vallo demonstrate the traditional art form of hand made pottery.

Other attractions in El Malpais include its many  lava tube caves,  Cerro Encierro, a popular hike/climb hill  with spectacular views,  La Ventana Arch and The Narrows where cliffs rise up like fortress. This volcanic wonderland  holds many surprises. It is a high desert environment where animals and plants thrive and prehistoric ruins, ancient cairns, rock structures, and homesteads remind all of a very distant past.

This is also “The Land of Fire and Ice.” There are several ice caves in area called the Bandera Crater Region, towards the northwest of the lava beds.

A  small fee is charged at the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano ( $10 per adult and $5 per child) for access, while there  are other caves within the National Monument  reaching them is difficult and requiring a treacherous walk of several miles. The ice cave park is family friendly provide picnic areas, concession, gift shop, a mining sluice for the kids and easy access to the Bandera Volcano and Bandera Ice Cave ice cave below.

Visitors will  also  marvel as they walk through twisted, old-growth Juniper, Fir and Ponderosa Pine trees.

The historic Trading Post displays ancient artifacts as well as contemporary Indian artwork. Many of the artifacts date back 1200 years. This is as one young visitors said “almost like  a journey to the center of the earth!”

For a journey into culture, history and natural wonders visit the Acoma Pueblo, you will not be disappointed.

For information call 505-552-6123.

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