Site: Pueblo de Taos
Location: New Mexico, U.S.
Year Designated: 1992
Reason: This adobe settlement has housed a Native American community for more than seven centuries.
Several U.S. Native American sites enjoy UNESCO World Heritage site status but only one is a living community—Taos Pueblo.
The Pueblo Indians have lived in this fascinating complex of multistoried adobe homes and ceremonial structures since they were built in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. When the first Spanish explorers set eyes on the settlement in 1540 it looked much as it does now, and the descendents of the original inhabitants remain here to carry on ancient traditions.
The Pueblo Indian culture most likely sprang from the Anasazi Indian tribes that lived in the Four Corners region of the U.S. during prehistoric times. Taos Pueblo in New Mexico is just one, though perhaps the most impressive existing example, of numerous pueblos built in the Taos Valley as far back as in the 900s. Pueblo Indian traditions say that their people have lived at the Taos Pueblo site for a thousand years. Though self-sufficient, the pueblo was not isolated—it was a major center of trade between the Rio Grande pueblos and the Plains Indians.
Today about 150 people still make their homes full-time in the pueblo. Others maintain houses there but live elsewhere in more modern homes on some 99,000 acres (40,000 hectares) of Pueblo Indian land. In accordance with tradition, no electricity or running water is allowed in residences inside the adobe pueblo.
Adobe is a strong mixture of earth, water, and straw—used to construct buildings with thick walls and timber-supported roofs. Though durable enough to last through many centuries, the structures are often coated with new layers during maintenance. Until recent times the Taos Pueblo’s first floors had no entrances. For purposes of defense, they were accessed by external ladders, which led to the roof, and then by internal ladders, which led from the roof down into the structure.
The Taos Pueblo is a sovereign nation governed by a Tribal Council of elders who appoint a governor and war chief. Though the inhabitants are 90 percent Catholic, they still celebrate some ancient religious rites passed down from their Native American ancestors. In addition to English and Spanish, Pueblo Indians speak their native language of Tiwa.
The pueblo welcomes visitors, who are an important part of the local economy. In 2010, the tribe celebrated the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s 1970 decision to return Blue Lake to the Pueblo Indians. This sacred religious site in the mountains, which also sources the Rio Pueblo that runs through the pueblo as its only water source, had been seized for national forest land in 1906. Its return restored the spiritual heart of the pueblo and notched a major victory for Native American rights.
How to Get There
The pueblo lies just outside of the modern town of Taos, New Mexico. Albuquerque is the nearest international airport, located some 135 miles (215 kilometers) south of Taos.
When to Visit
Taos Pueblo is open daily but closes periodically for tribal rituals. It also closes for a ten-week period in late winter to early spring.
How to Visit
The key word for visitors is respect—remember that the pueblo is a community. Obey “restricted area” signs and don’t wander into buildings that aren’t clearly marked open to the public—they may be private homes. Visitors must pay a fee for photography and ask members of the tribe before taking their picture.