TAOS

The Best Famous Pueblo

By Richard Mahler

Author of "New Mexico's Best"

Although technically not in the town of Taos, the pueblo of Taos might as well be. It is only two miles north of the plaza and has loomed like a shadow over its European-dominated neighbor since the latter's founding by Spanish settlers in 1617. If nothing else, one must give Taos Pueblo and its people applause for their endurance.

Founded a thousand or more years ago, the two multistoried adobe apartment houses that dominate the community have looked much the same since Coronado and his conquistadors visited them in 1540. Small wonder, then, that the Spanish later adapted the Indians' (and Moors') mud-and-straw construction techniques to build their own New Mexico houses, many of which have lasted two centuries or more.

As exciting and awe-inspiring as it is to see the venerable Taos Pueblo structures still in use after so many years, there is something disconcerting about going there as a tourist. After all, how would you feel if cars and buses pulled up in your driveway all day, every day, disgorging hundreds of strangers who snapped pictures of where and how you live? Would you like to be asked constantly by someone you'd never met if he or she could take your picture?

One can rationalize that the pueblo invites tourism, but is it sufficient payment for a certain loss of dignity? No matter, there's no talk of closing the pueblo to tourists-who bring considerable income to the tribe-and it remains a must-see destination simply because of the complex experience of being there.

Beyond the buildings themselves, and the wonderful play of light and shadow against the textured surfaces, there's not much to see in Taos Pueblo, unless you come on a special occasion or would like to buy something from one of the many Indians selling jewelry, food or drinks. Many of the pueblo's buildings and 95,000 acres are off-limits, and you should never enter any homes without being invited. But if invited, it's an opportunity you shouldn't pass it up.

If You Go: Taos Pueblo, about 2 miles north of the Taos Plaza, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. visitors are subject to a $5-per-car admission fee and an additional $45 fee for still photography. Higher fees are assessed for videotaping and sketching. Tours are offered by members of the tribe, who can summarize the pueblo's long history.

Insider Tip: The best time to visit Taos Pueblo is during a dance ceremonial or on a feast day. For example, on the two concurrent feast days of San Geronimo, at the end of September, young male members of the tribe try to shimmy up tall poles, to untie bundles of food and trinkets tied to the very top. This lighthearted spectacle, which includes foot races and dancing and the cavorting of painted clowns, lasts all afternoon.

Meanwhile, vendors sell food, drinks and artwork along the Rio Taos, which flows through the center of the pueblo. Other special days are Dec. 25, Jan. 1, Jan. 6 and July 10-12. Photography during dances is not allowed.

Richard Mahler is author of "New Mexico"s Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer as well, he specializes in travel writing, among other subjects. He has contributed to National Public Radio since 1973 and to the Los Angeles Times since 1979. He has written thousands of articles for more than 100 magazines and newspapers, including The New Mexican, New Mexico magazine and Santa Fean magazine. A longtime resident of New Mexico, he lives in Santa Fe.

For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.


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