Heritage Travel
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A Magical Day at Acoma

Yesterday was magical for the Browns as we visited Acoma Sky City, the country’s oldest continuously inhabited community, on a splendid summer day.  Acoma Sky City is a National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Site and one of this country’s very special places.  Rising early we arrived at the spectacular Sky City Cultural Center – a center that blends with the land and was designed only after the community held a series of focus groups with tribal members ranging from age 4 to 96.  Every detail at the center has been thoughtfully considered, and we received a top-to-bottom tour from Center Operations Director Randy Howarth.  Randy was our host for the day and saw to it that we got to experience all that Acoma had to offer.

Acoma Sky City – the spiritual home of the pueblo – sits on the top of a 357 foot mesa.  We joined a tour group that included some bikers from Belgium who were riding Historic Route 66 from Chicago to LA.  After riding to the top of the mesa, we met our tour guide Gary and spent the next hour and a half touring the historic Mission Church of San Estevan Rey (see Andrew’s picture at the top of the post), the plaza, and the exteriors of the historic houses.  Sky City is a photographer’s dream, and Andrew and Claire took over 100 pictures between them.  With the brilliant blue sky and bright sun, the shadows made for great pictures, such as the one Claire took below of one of the historic ladders leading to the second floors.

We had enjoyed the tour but were honored when Connie Garcia, the General Manager of the Cultural Center, invited us into her home that faces the plaza.  For the next hour, we talked with Connie about life on the mesa.  Connie is a member of the Antelope clan on her mother’s side, the clan that appoints the leadership for the pueblo, including the War (or Field) Chiefs who have oversight for the historic mesa.  It was touching to hear Connie speak of the deep responsibility she and other members of the clan feel to identify effective male leaders for the various tribal posts.  Acoma is a matriarchal society in terms of dominant clans (Connie is a “little bear” on her father’s side) and yet all the tribal leaders are male.  We were all moved when she spoke of how her lack of daughters meant that she would be the last in her line to be a member of the Antelope Clan.  Connie passed along so much wisdom to us while sitting in that special place.  It was truly an honor.  

After leaving Connie’s, we hiked down the mesa on the “Padre’s Trail” – the very steep set of steps cut into the rock that for centuries was among the handful of foot trails that provided the only access to the top of the mesa.  For our adventuresome daughter and rock-climbing son, this was a thrill.  Candice and I enjoyed it…but I wouldn’t say we enjoyed it to the same level of excitement as Andrew and Claire.  We all made it down in one piece and have the photo to prove it.

When we returned to the Cultural Center, we met with Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Site Director Theresa Paschal.  I’ve come to know Theresa in my work and it was great to have the opportunity to sit down over a lunch of traditional Acoma food with Theresa and Randy.  We talked about stabilization needs of the oldest structures on the mesa, funding, historic preservation review with the NM Department of Transportation, and all sorts of work-related issues, but her eyes really lit up when we talked about Claire’s black-and-white photography course.  Theresa told Claire of going through 12 rolls of film at Spanish market in Santa Fe as an example of her passion for photography.  “Black-and-white is the real photography” said Theresa…and Claire agreed.  After a walk through the museum exhibit (appropriately of historic black-and-white photographs of Acoma) and the wonderful gift shop, we said our good-byes and left this magical place physically, but the spirit of Acoma will certainly remain with us for a long time.

Andrew and Claire have seen more National Trust Historic Sites that most people in America.  In 4th grade, Claire’s teacher asked her what her father did for a living and she replied “he goes to meetings and signs papers.”  When she told me that story, I laughed and said that was a pretty good description of many of my days, but it wasn’t WHY I worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  So over the next five years, I’ve taken one or more of my children with me on a business trip over their spring break, and they’ve now seen our sites from Filoli and Cooper-Molera Adobe on the west coast to the Museum of African American History and Chesterwood on the east coast – and many in-between.  They’ve learned a lot about historic preservation, but they both agreed that Acoma Sky City was among the highlights of these visits.  A truly magical day.

More to come…


This entry was posted in: Heritage Travel


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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