8 Northern Pueblos of New Mexico to Visit

The Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico include Picuris, Taos, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque, and San Juan. These pueblos together make up the Eight Northern Pueblos Council that advocates for the legal interests of the Pueblos and sponsors several craft fairs. Tewa and Tiwa are very closely related and belong to the Kiowa Tanoan language family. Out of the eight pueblos, only two, Taos and Picuris, speak Tiwa. The rest of the pueblos speak Tewa.

The Taos Pueblo is situated just outside the town of Taos. Picuris, also known as San Lorenzo, is located on the High Road to Taos. The other six pueblos are within 30 miles (50 km) of Santa Fe. All the six Pueblos near Santa Fe can be visited in a single day’s round trip. The San Ildefonso and San Juan pueblos give a feel of the ancient lifestyle. The former is known for its broad plaza and the latter for its arts cooperative. Another main attraction nearby is the Espanola en route, which is famous for some of its delicious New Mexican food.

Certain rules of etiquette should be observed when one visits the pueblos. Pueblos are not merely personal dwellings but are also important historic sites. Therefore, these ancient structures should be respected as such. Entering sacred grounds such as kivas and cemeteries, climbing on the buildings, and peeking into the doors or windows is not allowed. Besides, the visitors are expected to remain silent during a ceremony and refrain from any sort of applause. Photography and sketching in the Pueblos are strictly prohibited. Northern Pueblos are certainly worth a visit if you are interested to understand and explore the history and lifestyle of the Native Americans.

Santa Clara Pueblo

Santa Clara Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos, is a Tewa-speaking pueblo situated in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. It is located just one mile (1.6 km) south of Espanola on N. M. 30. It was constructed around 1550 when the ancestors of the Santa Clarans, who initially lived in the nearby Puye Cliff Dwellings, were forced to move into the fertile Rio Grande Valley after a drought. At present, as many as 10,658 people are living in the Pueblo. The major attraction at the Pueblo is the Santa Clara Canyon. This spectacular canyon is a deep, tree-lined retreat known for its mountain-ringed fishing lakes, picnicking, and developed campsites. However, the Canyon and the Puye Dwellings are open to the public only seasonally. Besides, guided as well as self-guided tours are made available throughout the Pueblo. A trip through the pueblo is a great experience and gives a feel of the contemporary lifestyle of the Santa Clarans.

Santa Clara Pueblo is also well-known for artistic items, especially pottery, such as carved black ware, red ware with deep gravings, melon bowls, and polychrome mediums. In fact, the Pueblo is the home of Nancy Youngblood, a noted potter known for her alluring contemporary work. Also, there are several shops nearby that sell baskets and other stunning crafts. This pueblo is one of the largest pueblos and comprises of several rows of tract homes surrounding an adobe central area. It’s set across the river basin, near the magnificent black Mesa, is an incredible one. Another impressive feature of the Santa Clara Pueblo is its language program. The children are taught the native Tewa language by the artisan elders in order to preserve the identity of this ancient language.

Santa Clara Pueblo has also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Visitor Center, popularly known as the ‘neighborhood center’, can be reached by following the main route to the old village. The famous cemetery located in this area is a primitive site, with graves adorned with plastic flowers and plain wooden crosses. The main cultural events include the corn and the harvest dances performed on the Santa Clara Feast Day observed on August 12 every year.

  • Mailing Address: Santa Clara Pueblo, PO Box 580, Espanola, NM 87532
  • Telephone: (505) 753-7326
  • Hours: 9 AM – 4 PM daily (visitor center is open Monday to Friday 8 AM – 4:30 PM)
  • Website: www.indianpueblo.org

San Ildefonso Pueblo

San Ildefonso Pueblo, situated in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, is one of the Eight Northern Pueblos. This Tewa-speaking Pueblo is popularly known as the ‘Pox Oge’, which in Tewa language means “a place where the water cuts down through”. The contemporary San Ildefonso Pueblo is a flourishing art community and is located just 23 miles (37.1 km) north of Santa Fe. It can be easily reached by following US 84/285 and then turning west off NM 502.

San Ildefonso Pueblo is the most frequented Northern Pueblo, attracting nearly 20,000 visitors annually. It has a large, dusty plaza, with ancient dwellings on one side, a large, dusty plaza on the other side, and a Church at the far end. The Pueblo is also known for its scenic beauty. It is situated at the foot of the Pajarito Plateau, nearly 8 miles (13 km) from Los Alamos, New Mexico. The spectacular Rio Grande River also runs through the Pueblo. Another impressive feature is the “Black Mesa”, a large volcanic outcropping north of the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Black Mesa is considered to be a symbol of people’s strength.

This Pueblo is also well known as the home and birthplace of the late Maria Martinez, who developed the internationally acclaimed black-on-black pottery with black matte designs. San Ildefonso was established in the early 1900s and since then, it has been the main center of the Pueblo arts revival. All the artisans’ homes in the pueblo are open to the public for shopping. A major attraction at the Pueblo is the 4.5 acres (0.019 sq-km) San Ildefonso fishing lake. This lake is surrounded by “Bosque” (forest) and is open to the public from April through October.

Besides, there are a number of picnic areas along the Rio Grande. However, camping in the area is strictly prohibited. Other main tourist attractions in the area include the San Ildefonso Pueblo Museum and the Maria Poveka Martinez Museum. The major cultural event is the dawn Animal Dance performed here on the pueblo’s feast day observed on January 23, every year. Maps and permits for sketching, recording, and photography are sold at the Visitor Center.

  • Address: San Ildefonso Pueblo, Rt. 5 Box 315 A, Santa Fe, NM 87506
  • Telephone: (505) 455-2273
  • Hours: Summer: 8 AM – 5 PM daily; Winter: Mon – Fri, 8 AM – 4:30 PM
  • Website: www.indianpueblo.org

Nambe Pueblo

Nambe Pueblo, situated just 20 miles (32.1 km) north of Santa Fe at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is one of the Eight Northern Pueblos. This Tewa-speaking pueblo was established in the 14th century and since then, it has existed as a primary cultural and religious center. Nambe Pueblo was also the main center for the manufacture of painted pottery until 1830. The distinctive style of pottery of the Pueblo is called the Nambe Polychrome. This style closely resembled the Powhoge Polychrome. The Nambe vessels included mainly black wares, micaceous-slip jars superficially resembling the vessels from Picuris, fluted -rimmed bowls like those of Santa Clara, and plain tan vessels of a relatively rough finish. Nambe pottery and silver can be seen at the artist studios located on way to the Nambe Pueblo.

The Nambe Pueblo can be reached via U.S. 84/285 and N.M. 503. At present, as many as 1,764 people are living at this ancient Pueblo. The Pueblo has become a famous tourist attraction and a favorite stop for those seeking recreation and beauty in the area. The main recreation activities offered by the Nambe Falls Recreation Area, situated above the Pueblo, include lake fishing, swimming, camping, and a stunning double-drop waterfall.

The main cultural events at the Pueblo include several dances and an arts and crafts fair held on July 4, every year on the occasion of the Nambe Falls Ceremonial. The Pueblo Feast Day is observed on October 4, when the pueblo honors the patron saint of Santa Fe, San Francisco de Asis. Guided tours are made available to the public to see the pueblo’s buffalo herd through the famous Buffalo Tours. Dance performances by young Buffalo Dancers are organized upon advance request. Besides, photography, tape/video recording, and sketching are charged.

  • Address: Nambe Pueblo, Rt. 1, Box 117-BB, Santa Fe, NM 87506
  • Telephone: (505) 455-2036
  • Website: www.indianpueblo.org

Puye Cliff Dwellings

The Puye Cliff Dwelling, situated near the Santa Clara Reservation, provides a view of centuries of culture, which has been wonderfully preserved. It gives a unique opportunity to relive the ancient life of the Native Americans. The first dwellings one will encounter in the area were constructed around 1450. The other dwellings built on a 200-foot (60-m) cliff face date back to 1200. It is estimated that the dwelling population was at its height by 1540 when Puye had become the center for several villages of the Pajarito Plateau.

At present, this settlement exemplifies the Pajarito culture in its symbolic decorations and the placement of its houses. Most of the dwellings in the area comprise of a series of rooms and caves that be reached by sturdy steps and ladders. The visitors can clamber up and down, climbing in and out of the homes. The Puye Dwellings can be reached by heading north, at the intersection of NM 502 and NM 30, for 4 miles (6 km) to the Indian Road 601 and then, traveling this paved road for another 7 miles (11 km). This ancient site is well worth visiting but the ruins and recreation area was closed indefinitely after the recent fires devastated the area.

  • Telephone: (505) 753-7326

San Juan Pueblo

San Juan Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos, is situated in the Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, 25 miles (40 km) north of Santa Fe. It was in November 2005 that the Pueblo was given its pre-Spanish name, ‘Ohkay Owingeh’, meaning “place of the strong people”. This Tewa-speaking Pueblo is the largest and the northernmost of all the Pueblos. It is also the headquarters of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council. At present, 6748 people are living at the San Juan Pueblo. In ancient times, this Pueblo was the primary center of an Indian meeting ground and it is believed that the O’ke natives were so powerful that only they had the right to declare war for the Pueblo Indians.

The San Juan Pueblo is also home to the Oke-Oweenge Crafts Co-operative that displays the art of the eight northern pueblos. This Tewa Village is primarily known for its weaving, redware pottery, and painting. A major attraction nearby is the Aquino’s Indian Arts and Crafts, which exhibits impressive paintings and wood carvings. Another favorite spot in the area is the OhKay Casino, where people love to enjoy a buffet and a round of Roulette. The main recreational activity at the Pueblo is fishing. Fishing by the permit is made available at the San Juan Lakes throughout the year. A number of cash fishing tournaments are held year-round at these lakes.

Situated on the east side of the Rio Grande, just opposite the 1598 site of San Gabriel, the San Juan Pueblo was the first pueblo to be subjected to Spanish colonization. Even today, many of the tribe members are Catholics. However, most of the San Juan tribes practice only the traditional religious rituals of the Native Americans. The two large, rectangular Kivas flanking the Church provide evidence for the fact that the past and the present cohabitate here. The main cultural events include the annual San Juan Fiesta, held on June 23 and 24; the turtle dance, performed on December 26; and the Matachine Dance, performed on Christmas. The annual San Juan Fiesta features Comanche and Buffalo Dances while the Matachine Dance flamboyantly describes the subjugation of the Native Americans by the Catholic Spaniards. The Pueblo is worth visiting and can be reached via NM 74, a mile off NM 68, about 4 miles (6 km) north of Espanola.

  • Mailing Address: PO Box 1099, San Juan Pueblo, NM 87566
  • Telephone: (505) 852-4400
  • Hours: Open daily during the daylight hours
  • Website: www.indianpueblo.org

Pojoaque Pueblo

Pojoaque Pueblo, situated nearly 15 miles (24 km) north of Santa Fe off U.S. 84/285, offers a roadside glance into Pueblo arts. It is one of the Eight Northern Pueblos and is just 6 miles (10 km) north of the famous Tesuque Pueblo. This Tewa-speaking pueblo is a primary center for traveler services. However, it is very small and does not have a definable village. At present, 2712 people are living on the Pueblo lands. In the Tewa language, the word “Pojoaque” means “a water-drinking place”.

The major attraction here is the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum maintained and managed by the Pueblo. It is located within a large complex of adobe buildings, including the three-story Sun Tower and it comprises of a Museum, artists’ studios, and a cultural center. The Cultural Center and Museum feature frequent exhibitions on Pueblo art, traditional ceremonial dances, and artist demonstrations. The Center is also home to an information center and also, the largest Indian arts and crafts shop in northern New Mexico.

The Pojoaque Pueblo Visitor Center, situated nearby, sells indigenous silverwork, embroidery, pottery, and beadwork. Besides, the Pueblo also operates the new Towa Golf Resort for visitors and locals. Recently, it has also opened a Wellness Center and a boys and girls club for its young non-tribal and tribal members. The Wellness Center houses a library, a gym, a senior citizens’ center, and the CHR Program. The Pojoaque Tourist center, on the other hand, exhibits and sells locally made sculptures, rugs, pottery, sand paintings, kachinas, and other souvenirs. The main annual cultural events held at the Pueblo include the buffalo dance performed on the occasion of Pueblo’s revived feast day, which is observed on Dec.12, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Besides, there are many other dances performed on January 6. Admission to the Pueblo is free and sketching, photography, and video recording are strictly prohibited.

  • Address: Pojoaque Pueblo, Rt. 11, Box 71, 39 Camino Del Rincon, Santa Fe, NM 87506
  • Telephone: (505) 455-2278
  • Hours: Open daily during daylight hours (Poeh Center: 8am-5pm)
  • Website: www.indianpueblo.org

Tesuque Pueblo

Tesuque Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Pueblo, is situated 9 miles (14.4 km) north of Santa Fe on US 84/285. With a population of not more than 806 people, it is one of the smallest pueblos in the state. The name of the Pueblo has been derived from the Tewa word Te Tesugeh Oweengeh, meaning the “village of the narrow place of the cottonwood trees.” Situated in the soft red-brown foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Tesuque Pueblo has an air of age-old tranquility and it is known for its rich heritage. According to the estimates, this Pueblo was constructed in 1200 AD. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The most impressive feature in the area is the Camel Rock, a stunning natural sandstone formation that has been eroded into the shape of a camel by wind and rain. The entrance of the Pueblo lies to the south of this Rock. The famous Camel Rock Casino, situated across the highway, is also run by the residents of the Pueblo. This Casino houses an elegant arts and crafts gift store. Tesuque Pueblo is home to a number of artists who create paintings, pottery, and sculpture. The most noteworthy artwork includes Teresa Tapia’s miniatures and pots with animal figures and Ignacio Duran’s black-and-white and red micaceous pottery.

Besides, the Pueblo is also known for its traditional clothing and silverwork. The Tesuque Pueblo Reservation encompasses an area of over 17,000 acres (70 sq-km), including the Vigil Land Grant High in the Santa Fe National Forest and the Aspen Ranch. The Native American tribe at the Pueblo also runs the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market on Opera Hill, with Camel rock Suites and over 1200 booths available every weekend. The Tesuque people are considered to be the most traditional among all New Mexico pueblos in preserving culture and observing ceremonies.

The main cultural events at the pueblo include the annual Feast day of San Diego, observed on November 12; the Three Kings Day festivities in January; the Christmas Day celebrations; and the Corn dance, performed during the first weekend in June. The San Diego Feast Day features harvest, Deer, flag, Buffalo, and Comanche Dances. All festivals are open to the public but photography and video recording are strictly prohibited. Other attractions on the site include the San Diego Church, the fifth Church on the pueblo’s plaza and the Crafts Gallery on the southeast corner of the Plaza.

  • Address: Tesuque Pueblo, Rt. 5 Box 360-T, Santa Fe, NM 87506
  • Telephone: (505) 983-2667/988-3620, (800) 483-1040
  • Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM daily


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