With Gallup behind me, I moved into the interior of New Mexico. Suddenly, the radio stations weren’t all Christian Rock and Country. More variety, more liberal, more diverse New Mexico opened up to me. And although I was getting road weary, I was excited to have a few days to explore this part of the country.
Thankfully, my friends Beth and Jerry, had recommended that I stay with their friends in Albuquerque, well, Corrales, and Marion and Tim graciously took me in for two nights. This gave me the opportunity to do a day trip up to Santa Fe and keep a home base near Interstate 40, my launching pad for going home.
So, having some flexibility, I decided to take my friend, M’liz’s, recommendation and stop at the Acoma Pueblo and Museum on my way to Corrales. The pueblo was about a 20 minutes off the highway and well worth the diversion.
I have to admit, that while my choice to take Route 40 home is quicker, it is also dull and dangerous, so any chance I can get to break off of the highway for a bit, I’ll take.
On 40, most of the traffic is from large semis and they barrel down the highway at speeds of 85-90 mph, pushing my little Rav4 around as they speed past. On this day in particular, the winds were gusting up to 50 mph and so like sails on a ship, the semis routinely swayed into my lane as they past. I gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on the road in an effort to keep away from the passing metal scows.
The Acoma Pueblo is miraculously perched on top of a dramatic 367 foot mesa, or rock. The pink colored sandstone shoots up from the desert and as you drive down the country road towards it you notice the houses on top of the rock. How did they get up there, you wonder, and why? First, the geology of the place: this was all once under water, and when the water receded it left great sand dunes, that blew, hardened and turned to rock. Later, wind and more rain eroded the rock into these mesas. Why the Acoma people built on top of the mesa wasn’t for protection, as one might assume, but to be as close to the gods and clouds as possible. Living in the desert, the most important resource is water, so if you can get up close to the clouds to pray for rain, you might have more luck. Or so the story goes. Even the ladders that the people used to climb higher, have a double arrow rung at the top: a symbol that the arrow may puncture the clouds and let the rain come down.
I pull into the Museum’s parking lot and luckily make it in time for the 12:30 tour. You can only go up to the mesa with a guide in a small shuttle bus. My tour leaves on time, with Steven, our Acoma guide.
The trip up the mesa is quick and winds up a road that cuts into the side of the rock. Once on top, you see that the homes are made of adobe and stone and radiate out from a plaza. At one point there were over 100 families living here. Now, there are only 15. Most of those who live here are potters and artisans, and they have set up tables to sell their work. Of course, I buy some pottery. It is so beautiful with the geometric patterns.
The homes are without electric or running water, but they seem sturdy considering that some date back to 1100 AD. There is also a mission church dedicated to San Esteban. It was built after Coronado came to this area with his Spanish military and at first played nice with the indigenous people, and then, not so nice. The mission priests who ordered the Acoma to build a church on top of the mesa insisted that they haul Ponderosa pines logs from miles away and never let the felled trees touch the ground. If the trees did, the people would be beaten and then they would have to go back and chop down another pine. Sounds like something Jesus would do, right? Not. The church took 11 years to complete and every man, woman, and child was enlisted to do the “work of the Lord.”
It amazes me how after such a horrendous history of enslavement, torture, and murder, the indigenous people still have forgiveness and tolerance in their heart. And then, to listen to the radio as I am driving down the highway and hear of North Dakota’s obvious attempt to suppress indigenous people’s right to vote in THEIR country’s election, I just cannot believe it. I shake my head at the blatant racism and hatred the GOP consistently demonstrates towards people of color and economic instability. When will people say enough? I grit my teeth and hope that people of kindness, hope, and justice will get out on Nov. 6 and vote to finally push the rich and hateful out of office.
Okay, stepping off my soap box now. More later, I am sure…..
Finally, on my drive out of Acoma, I have to put on my brakes. Wild horses are crossing the roadway. Beautiful, resilient, gentle, fierce and wild. They take my breathe away.
I have to say, I have fallen in love with this wild landscape and the people and animals who struggle to survive here. It is wild. It is harsh. It is authentic. It is the West as it always has been. One can only hope it will survive.