The culture that developed before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century is visible in both ruined and inhabited pueblos and in excellent museums that hold some of the state’s finest treasures. Even if you’re visiting only a small area on your trip, there’s a lot of American Indian history to see in and around each place—but definitely try to schedule a visit around a dance ceremony at a pueblo, as this will give you the most memorable impression of the living culture.
If you’re serious about purchasing art and jewelry, you may want to time your visit with the Santa Fe Indian Market, which takes place every August and showcases more than 1,200 artisans. But you’ll also have a chance to buy directly from craftspeople in Zuni, Acoma, Crownpoint, and Santa Fe. If you have plenty of time to explore, you could also head south of Albuquerque to the Salinas Pueblo Missions, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and the Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center should be your first stop, for its good museum and information on all the American Indian settlements. Also pay a quick visit to Petroglyph National Monument on the west side, to see ancient rock carvings and get a great view across the city. The Hyatt Regency Tamaya resort, on the north side of town, is owned by Santa Ana Pueblo.
West of Albuquerque, this weathered fortress village atop a mesa is accessible only by guided tour. At the base is an excellent cultural museum, which displays the pueblo’s specialty, delicate white pottery painted with fine black lines. You can grab lunch here, or down the road in Grants.
This is the only pueblo where you can stay overnight, at the Inn at Halona. It’s also the source of beautiful jewelry. Take a walking tour of the mission church, with its resplendent kachina murals, and check out the A:shiwi A:wan Museum. The dance ritual Shalako, in late November or early December, is amazing, but you must book at the inn many months ahead.
Hosting a huge annual powwow, Gallup has the largest native population in the state, as well as the small WWII Navajo Code Talkers Museum. Visit on a Saturday, for the funky and diverse flea market. About an hour’s drive away is Crownpoint, which hosts a monthly rug auction—a must-visit even if you don’t buy anything.
Shiprock and Farmington
Head into the Navajo Nation via U.S. 491, passing the Toadlena Trading Post, which displays beautiful rugs. Shiprock offers another chance at a Saturday flea market, or traditional mutton stew at the fast-food joints—or hold out till Farmington and Ash-Kii’s Navajo Grill. Farmington is usually the base for visiting Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a little over two hours south—though you can also camp at the site, under starry skies.
Taos Pueblo is as much a relic as Acoma but still regularly used. If your visit doesn’t coincide with a ceremonial dance there, stop by the Best Western Kachina Lodge in the early evening to see a demonstration performance (summer only)—but you should stay across the road at El Pueblo Lodge, a well-tended motel.
Check out the modern arts scene at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, as well as several galleries representing pueblo artists. And don’t miss the jewelry vendors under the portal at the Palace of the Governors. A short drive away are the ruins at Bandelier National Monument and the Puyé Cliff Dwellings, where Santa Clara residents lead the tours.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon New Mexico.