By Jay Stephens, University of Arizona
After a long and hard five weeks of excavation and lab work, we were turned loose on a three day trip to Chaco Canyon and the pueblos of Acoma and Zuni. It is difficult to summarize all of the amazing landscapes and sites that we saw over the long weekend, and this is especially true for the site of Acoma.
Founded in A.D. 1150, Acoma has had a long and tumultuous history. Not only were the residents of Acoma enslaved by the Spanish when they came to the “New World,” but they have also had to fight a continuous battle to keep their religion and culture alive. Many of these battles ended in throwing individuals off of the mesa, and now these battles serve as reminders that terrify and awe the tourists that visit the village. Luckily for us, we did not face such a punishment; though I am sure the idea is still entertained for especially rude tourists.
The tour of Acoma begins with a scenic bus ride up the mesa, a convenience made possible by the movies “Red Man” and “My Name is Nobody,” which were responsible for the construction and paving of the road. Once at the top, you are led around the village by one of the experienced tour guides and through the streets that the people of Acoma still inhabit. Many of them participate in the tour as vendors, and they offer great opportunities to purchase traditional Acoma craft items. There are plenty of sights to see along the tour, including kivas disguised as houses, amazing landscapes, and the Catholic church constructed after the Spanish conquest. This site has been known to attract people from all over the world, and if you are lucky enough, you’ll time your tour during the annual visit of the Swedish biker gang.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the tour, however, is the walk down the ancient staircase that people once used to get up and down the mesa. Before the road was constructed, women used this staircase to retrieve groundwater, and they carried the full jugs back up on their heads. Walking down this way, you begin to appreciate the lengths that people had to go to in order to sustain themselves on the mesa. Though there are handholds and a roughly laid out staircase, I, personally, cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to carry a jar full of water up the staircase on your head.
Overall, the weekend was a lot of fun, and we students very much appreciated the opportunity to get out and experience what the Southwest has to offer.