Two Special Places in New Mexico Connect With Native History
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Barbara Klein. This week we visit two special places in the state of New Mexico. They are important in the history of the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest United States.
In eighteen eighty, a scientist was traveling in the Southwest United States. Adolph Bandelier was researching the history and social organization of the American Indians who had lived there for centuries.
When he was in northern New Mexico, men from the Cochiti Pueblo took him to a place where their ancestors had lived in Frijoles Canyon. Mr. Bandelier saw the ruins of the ancient pueblo or village and said, “This is the grandest thing I ever saw.”
Today, many visitors to what is now known as Bandelier National Monument feel the same way. They lift their eyes to the tall rock walls that rise hundreds of meters up from the floor of the valley. They climb ladders to enter some of the caves that were homes centuries ago. They walk along the Frijoles stream lined with green trees that once was the only water supply for the valley. They wonder at the beauty of the area and imagine what it felt like to live there hundreds of years ago.
Bandelier National Monument is near the city of Los Alamos and not far from Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. It is on the Pajarito Plateau. This was formed by two explosions of the Jemez volcano more than one million years ago. Ash up to three hundred meters thick covered more than six hundred square kilometers around the volcano. Slowly the area became what visitors see today – a dry land of high flat mesa tops and deep canyons formed through thousands of years by flowing rivers.
People moved into the American Southwest more than ten thousand years ago as the last ice age was ending. These early people hunted large animals for food. They did not build permanent structures to live in because they followed the movement of the animals.
Archeologists have found evidence of these early people in the Bandelier area. The hunters left spear points shaped out of stone that they used as weapons.
The climate of the Southwest became drier and warmer. By seven thousand years ago, many large animals no longer existed. Instead, people hunted smaller animals and gathered wild plants for food.
About two thousand five hundred years ago the first houses appeared on the flat tops of mesas in what is now northern New Mexico. They were pit houses dug partly underground. Soon after that more permanent houses were built above ground. These early homes were made of a mixture of wet dirt, wood and rocks. Small family groups lived in these homes. They grew crops of corn, beans and squash.
More people moved into the Pajarito Plateau area about eight hundred years ago. They began living together in larger groups. Many people moved from the mesa tops to the bottom of Frijoles Canyon. They built pueblos or villages, some of them large. They had a good water supply in Frijoles Creek and fertile land for growing crops.
The traditional stories of American Indians who now live in the pueblos near Bandelier tell of links to the people who lived in Frijoles Canyon long ago. Yet no written record of the area exists until after the Spanish arrived in fifteen forty.
Now you are at the visitor center at Bandelier National Monument. A long path follows along the floor of Frijoles Canyon through an area of wildflowers and trees. From a distance you can see the tall wall of the canyon ahead.
The path leads to the ruins of a large village, named Tyuonyi. It had about four hundred small rooms built around a central open plaza. About one hundred people lived in the pueblo. It is one of several large pueblos whose ruins have been found in Bandelier National Monument.
The people who lived here were ancestors of some of today’s Pueblo Indians. Archeologists think they spent much of their time outside. They used the rooms for sleeping and keeping food. Both men and women grew crops. The women ground corn for bread, cooked and made pottery. The men built new rooms, hunted animals for food, and wove cloth. Children played games and took care of small animals.
The path continues past the ruins of the old pueblo up toward the reddish brown wall of Frijoles Canyon. There are many openings in the rock wall. The canyon walls are made of a soft rock called tuff. Tuff is made of ash from the explosions of the Jemez volcano. After thousands of years the ash became a soft rock. Through the years rain and wind made cracks and openings in it. The ancestral Pueblo people used stone tools to widen the small natural openings in the face of the canyon walls.
Visitors can climb up wood ladders to see the inside of several of the cave homes. The ceilings are black from smoke. From a cave room you can see far up and down the canyon and imagine what life was like there seven hundred years ago. Farther up the path are more cave homes with ruins of small stone rooms next to the wall of the canyon. Along the walls and in the caves are designs or symbols carved into the rock or painted on it.
You can see many other ruins by following the more than one hundred kilometers of trails in Bandelier. Archeologists know that the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians lived in the Frijoles Canyon for more than four hundred years. They also know that by the middle fifteen hundreds people left their villages and cave homes and moved south and east toward the Rio Grande River. No one is sure why. Modern Pueblo Indians say they feel a strong link to the spirit of their ancestors in Bandelier National Monument.
Taos Pueblo is near the city of Taos. It is the farthest north of the nineteen present-day Pueblos in New Mexico. It is very high up -- about two thousand two hundred meters.
Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest community in the United States that has always had people living in it. The Tiwa language spoken by the Taos Indians has never been written. However, their spoken history tells of their ancestors living in the area for about one thousand years.
The present Taos Pueblo buildings are made of adobe, a mixture of wet dirt and straw. They were finished almost six hundred years ago. They have many rooms built on top of each other. Centuries ago hundreds of people lived there. Today only about one hundred fifty people live in them all the time. These Taos Indians live in the ancient adobe rooms as their ancestors did centuries ago -- without any running water or electric power for lights.
Almost two thousand Taos Indians live nearby on land the tribe owns. They live in modern houses with electricity and running water. During the year they return to the Pueblo to take part in the many ceremonies and dances that are held in the ancient plazas.
The Taos Pueblo you see today looks almost as it did to the Spanish when they arrived almost five centuries ago. Many first time visitors recognize it because artists have been painting the beauty of Taos Pueblo for years.
Tall green mountains rise behind the Pueblo. Two large brown adobe buildings containing many rooms are on the north and south side of a stream. The water in the stream flows down from Blue Mountain Lake, a sacred place for the Taos Indians. It provides water for drinking and cooking for the people who live in Taos Pueblo today, just as it has for centuries.
Much of Taos Pueblo is not open to visitors. Taos Indians keep their history and ceremonies secret. They expect people to honor their privacy and their traditions. But visitors are welcome in small stores that are around the large open plaza areas. You can buy bread baked outside in traditional circular ovens. And you can buy jewelry, drums made of leather, and wood carvings made by members of the tribe.
The United Nations has named Taos Pueblo a World Heritage Site, one of the most important historical and cultural places in the world. For the Taos Indians, it will always be the center of their cultural and spiritual world.
Our program was written by Marilyn Christiano and produced by Caty Weaver. You can read transcripts of our programs and download audio at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.