Acoma Sky City: New Mexico Desert Sojourn

Road Journals Blog—I joined two vans of journalists and drove 60 miles west of Albuquerque to a natural fortress with sheer rock walls. It is the home of the Acoma people, who moved there sometime in the 12th century and built their city on top of a mesa that rises some 360 feet out of the desert floor.

mesa in the New Mexico desert, image

The road to Acoma Sky City leads through a wonderland of mesas. | Leslie Endicott

Dancing Eagle Travel Center On the drive there, we pulled off for gas where Exit 108 meets 40. The place appeared to be an ordinary gas station and store across from a casino, but inside was a treasure trove of fun Route 66 memorabilia. I perused shelves of classic, beautifully detailed collectible model cars from the 1950s and 60s. I was drawn to a miniature pink Cadillac with big fins. The kiddie go-carts on the wall would thrill any pint-size speedster.

Sky City Cultural Center Before taking the tour bus up to the sky city, we explored the center’s historical exhibits in Haak’u Museum, checked out pottery and jewelry in the gift store, and sampled dishes such as blue corn enchiladas, feast-day stews with fry bread, and a bison burger at the café. Out back, behind the café, many of the local craftspeople set up tables to display their wares. To see the sky city, you have to go on a guided tour (cars aren’t allowed). Make sure you get a photography permit or you won’t be allowed to shoot up on top.

an adobe house and ladder at Acoma Sky City, image

In Acoma Sky City, a ladder leads to the roof of an adobe home. | Leslie Endicott

Acoma Sky City From this mesa-top vista, the desert and mountains spread out in a circle. You can see that if the Spaniards hadn’t had cannons when they arrived in the 1500s, they never could have conquered the Acoma. An Acoma guide leads you along the narrow streets, flanked by adobe homes. At various stops, Acoma women display their fine pottery for sale. One of the main highlights of the tour, the San Esteban Del Rey Mission completed in 1640, is off limits to photography, but you can sit on benches in the cool interior and listen to the story of the Spanish occupation: some of it violent and all of it sad.

What's your favorite historic site?

This blog post was first published in August 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.