The Rich Indigenous Culture of Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico is a land rich in history and culture. The state is home to several Indigenous tribes, including the Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, and Comanche. One of the most interesting and well-preserved examples of American Indian culture in New Mexico can be found in Taos—a small town located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico known for its art and stunning mountain scenery.
There are many fascinating historical sites in and around Taos that tell the story of its rich Indigenous history. Learn more about these spectacular sites below:
Taos Pueblo, an ancient village located just outside of town, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. The pueblo (meaning "village" in Spanish) was likely constructed around 1325 A.D. by the Ancestral Puebloans, which means it has been occupied for over 1,000 years.
In 1992, Taos Pueblo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing its cultural and historical importance. Visitors to the village can tour the ancient adobe dwellings, see traditional dances (more on this later), and learn about the Taos people's unique culture—known for their pottery, jewelry, and weaving.
Additionally, Taos Pueblo was the subject of many paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, who first visited the pueblo around the 1920s and vowed to return. O'Keeffe was fascinated by the architecture of the pueblo, and she painted several well-known paintings of the village, including the self-titled “Taos Pueblo” and “New Mexico—Near Taos.”
San Francisco de Asis, also known as the Taos Pueblo Church, is a famous church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Built in the 17th century by Spanish settlers, it’s one of the oldest churches in the United States—known for its adobe construction, intricately carved wooden doorways, and beautiful Talavera tile work. The church is also famous for its beautiful frescoes, which were painted by Indigenous American artists in the 18th century. Today, the Taos Pueblo Church is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Mexico, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Taos was originally settled by the native Taos people, who developed a thriving culture based on agriculture and trade. In the late 18th century, Spanish settlers began arriving in the area and quickly began to exert their influence.
They built several missions and forts and began to develop their own communities by building homes like the Melson-Oldham Cabin—made of local adobe bricks. It’s one of the few remaining examples of a settler's home from the early 1800s, which is now a Registered National Historic Landmark.
Despite outside influences, American Indians have kept their culture and traditions alive. Learn about events around the pueblo that highlight local traditions:
***TAOS PUEBLO POW WOW
The people of Taos are warm and welcoming, and are proud of their heritage and traditions—which can still be seen today. One of the most popular tourist attractions is the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. Every year, residents and tourists alike come together to celebrate the cultural heritage of the Taos people. This Pow Wow is a vibrant and colorful event that features traditional dances and music.
Visitors can also learn about the history and culture of Taos at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which houses a museum, art gallery, library, and cultural programming. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the people of Taos.
“The beating of the human heart. We respond to rhythm when we sense it—and seek it out when it is not present, for it is invariably pleasant.”
Taos Drums offers free tours of their drum-making workshop and showroom, which features the world's largest selections of Indian drums. Over a year-long process, the drums are crafted from natural materials and renewable resources by native craftsmen from Taos Pueblo who continue the age-old tradition. The showroom also has a diverse display of rawhide furnishings, primitive folk art, ethnic crafts, and jewelry.
Taos Drums is currently only open by appointment due to COVID-19 restrictions. For more information, please visit their website or call the Taos Visitor Center.
Every year in July, Taos comes alive with Fiestas de Taos. The event is a celebration of the history and culture of Taos, and it features a variety of local and regional musicians. This time-honored tradition dates back to the 16th century when conquistadores ("conquerors" or "explorers" in Spanish) from Spain came to the area bringing their traditions and faith. What started as a Catholic tradition to honor the saints has transformed into a community-wide event. Today, Fiestas de Taos attracts tens of thousands of people from all over New Mexico and beyond.
If you're looking for a fun and festive way to celebrate summer, check out Fiestas de Taos on your next vacation.
Whether you're interested in Indigenous American art and history or just want to learn new things in a beautiful place, Taos is definitely worth a visit! Consider making it an “edu-vacation” for your kids and family. Learn more about it in our blog: “2022 Travel Trends: Educational Vacations for Families.”
Planning a trip to Taos? We’d love to see your photos, so tag us at @NaturalRetreats and use the hashtag #openthedoortomore. We can’t wait to hear about what you’ve learned along the way!
***EDITOR'S NOTE: Events at Taos Pueblo are cancelled until further notice, but they hope to reopen in August 2022.