Taos Pueblo: A Place to Remember

A visit to Taos Pueblo is one of those quintessential New Mexico experiences that every traveler and local must have.

Constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D., it is one of the most significant cultural and historical landmarks in the world. Taos Pueblo is a veritable 1000-year-old history book that remains almost as untouched by modernization today as it was in 1540, when the Spanish came upon the village and believed it to be one of the “Seven Cities of Gold.”  Still without electricity or plumbing within its walls, the ancient village rises out of the earth and sits proudly afoot the sentry of Taos Mountain.

Pueblo and mountain

Eliciting all the nostalgia of a time long past, this tiered structure is called Hlauuma in the Native Tiwa language, meaning North House. There is also the Hlaukwima, or South House, across the river. These are said to be the oldest inhabited communities in the U.S.

The Pueblo is painstakingly maintained by its residents. The Tribal Council ensures the inhabited structures’ mud exteriors are repaired and refreshed each September to shore up against the onset of winter. The flecks of straw in the adobe plaster show that no modern shortcuts have been used in this process.

little door

A tiny house sits abandoned on the south side. And although it lacks its new coat, it has a picturesque appeal that tells its own story — both inside and out.


The ancient bowing beams show the stress from hundreds of years under a heavy dirt roof.

ruin int2

The artery of the Rio Pueblo de Taos flows alongside the main plaza where traditional ceremonies are held. To this day, the river is the main source of drinking water for the Pueblo.


About 150 people reside in the Pueblo full time. Others have homes outside the historic village perimeter, but on the reservation land. The reservation covers 99,000 acres. Within the village there is little, if any, sign of modernization. The residents remain loyal to their duties that maintain tradition, but they have to work hard to balance their traditional lifestyles with the demands of modern existence, which for many, includes achieving a college education. An important element for the Pueblo economy is tourism and the sale of Native arts and crafts. Although there isn’t an abundance of curio shops, you can find mica-flecked pottery, silver jewelry, moccasins, boots, drums, art and weavings.


The curio shops are individually owned, as are the few food shops that offer traditional dishes and snacks. And today, the comforting smell of fry bread smoke rises from a few of the horno ovens.

blue doors

The original San Geronimo (Saint Jerome) church was built in 1619. After being destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, it was rebuilt. In 1847 it became a victim of the war between the U.S Army and Mexico. Now only its bell tower and the dancing crosses of its graveyard remain.



In 1850 the San Geronimo Chapel was completed. It sits facing the main plaza and looks almost new with its fresh paint and carefully tended walls, windows and doors.

church full

Its row of blue windows greets visitors as they first enter the Pueblo by the main street.

blue church window2

The view of Taos Mountain is framed by the courtyard entrance.


The ancient and complex Tiwa (sometimes spelled Tewa) traditions and Catholic rites exist harmoniously within the lives of the Pueblo people. This symbiosis is also apparent in the mix of annual ceremonials and Feast Days.

Taos Pueblo Annual Ceremony Dates:

Jan. 1, Turtle Dance
Jan. 6, Deer or Buffalo Dance
May 3, Santa Cruz Feast Day
June 13, San Antonio Feast Day
June 24, San Juan Feast Day
July 12,13,14, — 28th Annual Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow
July 25, Santiago Feast Day
July 26, Santa Ana Feast Day
Sept. 29, San Geronimo Eve Vespers
Sept. 30, San Geronimo Day, Traditional Pole Climbing
Dec. 24, Procession of the Virgin Mary
Dec. 25, Deer or Matachines Dance

Note: No photography is permitted during the ceremonies and Feast Days.

(For a comprehensive calendar of all 19 Northern New Mexico Pueblo Feast Days and Ceremony dates go to: http://santafeselection.com/visitor-info/pueblo-feast-days-calendar)

Taos Pueblo is usually open to visitors daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm, except when tribal rituals require it to be closed to the public. In winter, it will close for about 10 weeks, usually from February 1 through March 31st. If visiting during this time, it is always wise to call ahead and check if it’s open. Taos Pueblo Tourism Department:    (575) 758 1028

All visitors must sign in at the Visitor Center, pay the appropriate fees and adhere to the rules that respect the Pueblo, the privacy of residents, their homes and property.  Adult admission: $10 per person
Students (11 and up, includes college with ID) $5 per person
Group Rates (6 or more Adults): $8 per person
Children 10 and under: Free
Camera Fees – Personal Photography
Camera, cell phone and video fee: $6 per camera

larger lovely

I have seen many beautiful photographs of Taos Pueblo — all rendered its mystery and a sense of familiarity with the tiered shapes and brightly colored doors and accents. But until I had actually been there and walked its streets, I could never have said I’d seen it. Taos Pueblo is an experience, a captured time, an irreplaceable wonder; something there are so few of these days.

For more information on Taos Pueblo, where to stay, eat and shop in the town of Taos, go to our Taos Day Trip Guide at: http://santafeselection.com/day-trips-activities/taos-day-trip

For information on all 19 Northern New Mexico Pueblo Feast Days and Ceremony dates go to: http://santafeselection.com/visitor-info/pueblo-feast-days-calendar

The Maria Martinez Living Heritage at San Ildefonso Pueblo

San Ildefonso Pueblo is a short and easy 25-30 minute drive north of Santa Fe. The Native Tewa name of Po Woh Geh Oweenge means “Where the Water Cuts Through.” It is home to many Native American artists but the names of Maria and Julian Martinez are two of the most famous.

Black Mesa and Historic Marker

San Ildefonso Historic Marker and Black Mesa

Maria Montoya Martinez and Julian Martinez were two of the most highly acclaimed potters in the Southwest. They became known throughout the world for their highly polished, black on black and polychrome ceramics.


Julian and Maria Martinez

Today, their legacy lives on, not only in many collections and museum exhibits around the world, but in the art of the many generations of direct descendants they left behind. A leader of the tradition is Cavan Gonzales, Maria and Julian’s great-great-grandson, and a highly acclaimed, award-winning potter in his own right.


His Tewa name is Tse-Whang meaning “Eagle Tail,” and since he was five years old he has been winning awards in art shows and museum exhibits across the nation. In the family’s Pueblo gallery, Sunbeam Indian Arts, there’s a large, deep basket spilling over with award ribbons that members of this artistic family have won over the decades.

Basket of award ribbons

Like his ancestors, Cavan specializes in polychrome, black on black and black on red pottery with intricately painted motifs. He is also an established painter, with works placed in the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, and at the New Mexico State Capital in Santa Fe. Each August, collectors travel from all over the world to buy his latest creations at the famous S.W.A.I.A. Indian Market week (August 12 -18th, 2013). This year will be no exception. Cavan has been hard at work all winter to bring a new collection into existence.

Avanyu Jar

Avanyu (Water Serpent) Polychrome Jar

This large pot is the Avanyu (Water Serpent) Jar, and is inlaid with turquoise. The Avanyu symbolizes the importance of water to the Pueblo people.  The head represents the flowing of water down an arroyo or stream, the tail marks the ripples it creates. The tongue is the symbol of the lightning of a thunderstorm, and thunderclouds are above the curves of the serpent.

Cavan prefers to work in silence and solitude. It is a deeply meditative practice that requires a lot of presence and connection with the clay. I asked how long it takes to finish a piece and he said, “The pot determines how long it needs. Sometimes it can take many months or as much as a year before it lets me know it is ready.”

On this occasion, he demonstrates the slip coat process for me. Dipping a cloth into the bright red slip, he carefully glides it across the vessel’s thirsty surface.

Applying slip coat

It is clear that pottery making is a practice of devotion for Cavan. His mother Barbara Gonzales (Tahn-Moo-Whe, Sunbeam), agrees, “Many people think we make lots and lots of pots at a time just so we can sell them, but that’s not how it works.” Barbara is Maria Martinez’s great-granddaughter. She is well-known for her beautiful, award-winning “swish pots”. The enclosed saucers hold unique stones and lightweight mementos that when stirred create a swishing sound.


Cavan gathers his own clay twice a year from the hills of the San Ildefonso reservation. This spring he’ll collect “after the winds and before the rains.” He takes the time to sift the earth at the collection site, and later he mixes it with water and the volcanic ash he has collected, to perfect its consistency. The diverse colors of the earth provide different tones of slip and paint for the designs.

Clay dirt-Volcanic Ash-Polishing-stone

Pink clay dirt, white volcanic ash and a polishing stone.

Finding the right size, weight and surface smoothness of the polishing stone is also important. Cavan polishes the new slip surface to a brilliant shine.


Polishing the jar

And the blade of a yucca plant is transformed into a fine paintbrush. Its outer layer is cut away at the tip to expose the brush-like interior fibers. It takes a very steady hand to paint such intricate and exacting motifs.

Yucca blade brush

Demonstrating the yucca blade paint brush

In a corner of the Sunbeam Gallery, the family have a case dedicated to Maria and Julian. Photos, pots, books and memorabilia remind all visitors of the importance of the family’s heritage.

maria martinez pots 2

Cavan remembers his great-great-grandmother very clearly. He loved to watch her work. He was eleven years old when Maria passed away in 1980; she was 99. Barbara remembers her great-grandmother’s personality too and says, “She had a great wit and sense of humor.”


Maria’s old adobe home sits abandoned just down the road from the Gallery.


Sunbeam Indian Arts Gallery is in the family compound with convenient access from the main road off the highway, and spacious parking.

Sunbeam Gate Entrance

Sunbeam Compound Entrance

It is the first sign you see just before you enter the village. Cavan’s father Robert runs the gallery and is a wealth of information on the family and its history.


 Sunbeam Indian Arts is filled with beautiful work by all members of this extraordinary family tree, all the way to Cavan’s four-year-old daughter. Visitors are welcome at the Gallery every day from 10am to 5pm (except Feast Days, Christmas and Thanksgiving Holidays). Cavan and Barbara are also available for custom lectures of their work and heritage, by appointment only. Contact Robert and Barbara for rate information at (505) 455-7202.

Route 502 to San Ildefonso

It is an easy and beautiful scenic drive out of Santa Fe along Highway 84/285 north 15 miles, to the state road 502 exit (direction Los Alamos). Just 5.5 miles further to the San ldefonso Pueblo sign on the right.

Anyone looking for an authentic cultural experience and genuine works of Native American art would enjoy visiting the living history at Sunbeam Indian Arts.

For more information on Cavan Gonzales and the Sunbeam Indian Arts Family, call: (505) 455 7202 or go to: http://www.santafeselection.com/galleries/sunbeam-indian-arts

What: See the New Exhibition on The Life of Maria Martinez
When: Sunday, April 28th, 2013 1:00pm- 4:00pm
Where: Millicent Rogers Museum Taos.
Cavan and Barbara Gonzales will be present. Here’s a map to the museum.

San Ildefonso Pueblo Information:

The Pueblo Visitor Center is open 8am-5pm, and sits just a few hundred feet past the road to the gallery. Keep in mind that once in the Pueblo village, driving is not permitted. Visitors may sign in and tour the area on foot. There is a $10 per car fee. If you’re in a bus or van the fee is $25 per vehicle, plus 50 cents per passenger. There’s a camera fee of $10 also. Other fees apply if you’re sketching or taking video. To reach the Visitor Center call: (505) 455-3549.

Ghost Ranch Revisited

Although Ghost Ranch has been open to the public as a source of recreation for local communities and travelers since the early1900s, there are still many people, both locals and visitors, who don’t know about all it has to offer. It has been known as Georgia O’Keeffe Country for decades, but the beloved artist owned only a tiny portion of the vast 21,000 acres of varied and beautiful terrain. Its colorful Chinle rock formations and mesas are rich in history, dating back to the Triassic period (210 million years ago) when dinosaurs roamed the earth and New Mexico, along with the rest of the U.S., was located near the equator. The sweltering, humid, swampy landscape was home to the Coelophysis (Seel-oh-FY-sis) and other species of small carnivorous dinosaur.


Coelophysis Skull

There are two small museums on the property, one dedicated to the archeology of the area, the other to its paleontology. Paleontologists worldwide know Ghost Ranch to be one of the richest dinosaur quarries in the world. There was a “plate” of bones uncovered below Kitchen Mesa, just a short walk from the main buildings. Numerous skeletal remains were unearthed. Crushed together, it’s a jigsaw puzzle of bones, as if a flood or earthquake had caught a herd off-guard and trapped them for all time in the soft, pink rock.



Below Kitchen Mesa where a large number of dinosaur bones were unearthed

First known as Rancho de los Brujos (Ranch of the Witches), the homestead of Ghost Ranch has a wild and wending history that begins in the late 1800s with the dangerous, cattle-rustling Archuleta brothers. They named it Rancho de los Brujos — which served as a deterrent to anyone curious enough to wander onto the property. The Archuletas stole cattle and livestock and hid them in Box Canyon behind the ranch. The canyon was an ideal corral. It offered no way out without being seen as well as a source of fresh water for the cattle. It is said that those who tried to reclaim their livestock were killed by the Archuletas and buried in the area. The whistling winds blowing up the canyon walls were rumored by locals to be the cries of those unfortunate souls.


Kitchen Mesa

By the time Georgia O’Keeffe found her way to the ranch in 1934, it had been sold to Carol Stanley, who gradually sold it off in parcels to Arthur Pack.  It was being operated as a dude ranch when O’Keeffe arrived. Pack wrote about his years on this land in two books, We Called It Ghost Ranch and The Ghost Ranch Story. The reclusive O’Keeffe wasn’t keen on the dude ranch idea, but she was happy to install herself in Ghost House for the duration of the summer. In 1940 Pack sold her his own ranch house, “Rancho de los Burros”– and 7 surrounding acres. Now, you can ride horses to the house, along a trail that leads you through the valley, under the watchful eye of Chimney Rock.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

Our guide and veteran horseman Robbie Carter was a wealth of information on some of O’Keeffe’s favorite painting subjects. Before we set off he showed us a portfolio of many of her paintings of the area so we could spot them during the ride.


Trail toward Orphan Mesa

The trail winds around the undulating Lavender Hills, through the bright red pasture O’Keeffe called “My Back Yard,”  and past her house that faces her favorite mountain: Cerro Pedernal. She called it her “private mountain,” and she said, “God told me that if I painted it often enough I could have it.”

On horseback I had an elevated peek at O’Keeffe’s summer house and its view. It’s easy to imagine becoming hypnotized by the mountainous table of Pedernal rising above the serene waters of Abiquiu Lake. This house is not open to the public, so I felt lucky to be able to get this close to it. I’m told it remains exactly as she left it.


View of O’Keeffe’s Summer House and Cerro Pedernal

Beyond the great artists’ pervasive influence on the minds of visitors, today Ghost Ranch is a veritable playground for kids and adult lovers of the outdoors. In 1955, Pack gave the ranch to the Presbyterian Church with the understanding that they would not develop it, ensuring its pristine land remains a natural preserve. The nonprofit organization now offers a plethora of activities including geology, paleontology and archeology tours, hiking, horse riding, art, history, astronomy, archery, spiritual retreats of various doctrines, yoga retreats, and even high and low ropes courses, to mention a few. Guests can choose from an extensive calendar of workshops, classes and outdoor activities throughout the year.

It’s an easy 50-mile drive north of Santa Fe, but an entire day may not be enough to experience it all. No problem – they have lodging facilities from dorm-style to guest suites.  There is a cafeteria which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and accommodates both meat eaters and vegetarians with a couple of well-thought-out options. Breakfast is only $8 per person, lunch $10, and dinner $12.

For day visitors there is a $3 conservation fee, which grants you entry to both the paleontology and archeology museums, access to hiking trails and all public areas of the ranch. And the outdoor areas are pet friendly (dogs must be leashed). The fee for commercial tours/groups is $5 per person and the guide is free. If you wish to participate in a scheduled activity, call ahead to let them know you’re coming. (505) 685-4333.

Ghost ranch trail signs

The guides at Ghost Ranch are well-versed in the vast history and flora and fauna of the area, which makes the numerous variety of hikes and trail tours they offer all the more fascinating. You are free to roam around by yourself if you wish, but one word of caution they share is that if you’re hiking unguided, you must sign in at the Welcome Center and sign out when you leave. I would recommend being guided, so you can find your way around to the most interesting points, and learn a lot more than you’d expect, and because it is surprisingly easy to get spun around and lost.

After spending an entire day at the ranch, I returned home with the knowledge that I would sleep like a baby after a lovely, long day’s adventure, and feeling inspired to return to spend more time. Perhaps I’ll take a class, or maybe do a yoga retreat, or just spend a nice quiet weekend away from the bustle of the norm.

What to Bring:

Whatever the time of year, bring a hat for shade, sunglasses, and wear light layers in the summer, such as t-shirt, shorts, and light jacket, and sensible hiking shoes. Remember, that in the summer there may be brief monsoons in the afternoons. For spring, fall and winter the only difference would be your layers are warmer. Always bring water! Chapstick and sunscreen are strongly advised.

For more information and links to Ghost Ranch’s calendar of events, classes and workshops etc., go to: http://www.santafeselection.com/day-trips/ghost-ranch



The Legacy of Norah Pierson: The Golden Eye

She was a woman of talent, taste, and humor; an original character who added new color and beauty to Santa Fe’s unique retail jewelery landscape. Norah Pierson was one of the first female jewelers in Santa Fe to work in high carat gold and rare exotic gemstones. And yet there remains an air of mystery around this creative figure whose legacy lives on in The Golden Eye at 115 Don Gaspar Street, just steps from the historic plaza. I wanted to know more about this Santa Fean who named her store after the symbol of the ancient Egyptian sky god Horus, which represents protection, royal power and good health.


In 1984, Norah opened her “dream store” in Santa Fe, and hired Amy Bertelli as manager. This would prove to be the beginning of a lifelong, dynamic partnership. Over the course of the next 23 years, they trained a talented crew of jewelers, and built a worldwide, loyal clientele for their designs.

I love descending the steps into the tiny store to be surrounded by such opulent ores and gems. It stirs childhood memories of classic tales of caves, grottos, and pirates stumbling upon a hidden lode.


Gallery Director: Paula Cho

Norah drew inspiration for her designs from a variety of cultures across the globe. This Ashanti Cross of high carat gold, silver, aquamarine and blue zircon was inspired by the Ashanti tribe of Central Ghana. It is surrounded by a beautiful chain intricately woven in 24k gold.


Other rare and earthy gems and jewels Norah favored include hematite, quartz, zircon, cognac diamonds, turquoise and so many more. “She had an amazing ability to spot remarkable jewels,” says Paula Cho, Galllery Director. “She was the type of person who could go for a hike and spot arrowheads and pottery sherds like no one else. She taught Amy to do the same.”

Turquoise Necklace

Turquoise and Gold Necklaces

Norah loved the clever contrast of old, found, decaying metals with lush, rare jewels and high carat gold – a theme that remains in the displays today. Here, the rusting metal of an old hand rake flatters the simplicity of rose and yellow gold rings displayed on its finger-like prongs.


Since 1971, Norah had run a successful business in Laguna Beach, but the increasing bustle and popularity of the area sent her in search of quieter surroundings. She found her ideal in Santa Fe. She liked privacy, and disliked notoriety.  She preferred the isolated lifestyle befitting a Santa Fe artist, and chose to live surrounded by nature about 30 miles outside of town. She designed, and pitched in to build, an extraordinary “Rock House” on her land. Its organic-shaped foam exterior was painstakingly formed to blend and reflect its natural sandstone surroundings. It stands as testament to how much Norah loved rock in all its forms, and her desire to live surrounded by it.

Rock House

She may have shied from the limelight in her private life, but Norah’s creations have captured the attention and admiration of buyers and collectors around the world for decades. But there is one creation that’s not for sale. It sits proudly in its display like a totem to Norah and perhaps to all women. Inspired by a Star Wars toy, this pendant named Warrior Woman holds within its futuristic design 18k gold, moonstone, tourmalines, turned rose quartz, Mexican fire opal, pearls, black onyx, red spinel, cat’s-eye, emerald, garnet, peridot, amethyst, and diamonds!


I like to think it represents Norah, and her multifaceted, hard-working, creative and original character, who loved intricately blending the ordinary with the extraordinary, with grace and humor.


In 2007, Norah passed away peacefully in her sleep.  Amy and her expert staff and jewelers carry on her legacy today.

The Santa Fe jewelers who proudly carry the torch of Norah Pierson’s legacy also render their own special designs in unexpected metals and extraordinary gems. These jewelers are some of the best in their field. Among them is Santa Fe local Susan Bell, who specializes in the delicate filigre designs of the late16th century Ecuadorian and Spanish cultures. And Robin Waynee, originally of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe of Michigan, whose designs have won numerous prestigious awards, and Falk Burger, who mines many of his own gemstones for his one-of-a-kind creations, and whose work has been shown in galleries and museums all over the country. Here’s a fascinating piece of Falk’s with aging metal,18k gold, sterling silver, hematite and clear quartz – a one-of-a-kind treasure.



A visit to The Golden Eye is a must if you want to gain access to a true Santa Fe character. The store, its people and its story are all beautifully original.

For more information on The Golden Eye, please go to: http://santafeselection.com/unique-shops/the-golden-eye