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Indian Country

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Photograph of Albuquerque chilies Picture of Albuquerque chilies The guidebooks and maps call the arid region of northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and part of Colorado “Indian Country.” There certainly are many impressive Native American communities in the area, in ancient ruins and in pueblos where people have lived for centuries. “Adobe Country” might be more aptly descriptive (and more general). You’ll find a lot of adobe in both Indian-influenced and Spanish-influenced architecture. The dominant colors are brown earth tones, with bright white and turquoise accents against a crystalline blue sky... along with the ubiquitous ristras, the bunches of red chilies that adorn windows and walls as good-luck charms.

Picture of Saint Francis Church, Taos Photograph of Saint Francis Church, Taos Perhaps the most famous example of Spanish adobe architecture is the “triple cross” church of Saint Francis of Asisi in Taos, New Mexico.

Built in 1706, the San Filipe de Neri Mission in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico combines European architecture with American adobe construction.

Photo of San Filipe de Neri, Albuquerque

Picture of Anasazi dwelling, Wupatki From the first century to the 14th century, the Anasazi people thrived throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. They built massive stone cities on remote cliffs, and even in the sheer walls of desert canyons. The Navajo referred to them with their term for “alien ancient ones.” That remains the official designation for the vanished builders, as the Anasazi had no written language and left no record of what they called themselves. Picture of red rocks and ruins, Wupatki

Some time around the 14th century they all inexplicably disappeared, completely abandoning their stone cities. Some archaeologists believe they were forced to move after they depleted their water supply and soil, contrary to the popular conception of Indians living spiritual lives harmoniously with nature. The reason for the demise of the Anasazi remains a mystery, although the modern Navajo and Hopi claim to be their descendants. Wupatki National Monument in Arizona has several reconstructed Anasazi structures.

Pictures of Cliff Palace Pictures of Cliff Palace An even more impressive example of Anasazi construction skills is the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. The Anasazi built an entire pueblo into the top of a cliff, even taking advantage of an overhanging ledge to protect the inhabitants from sun and rain.

In addition to multi-story dwellings (perhaps the first condominium complexes in North America?), Anasazi cliff cities included kivas, circular rooms with an earth floor for religious ceremonies.

Photograph of Cliff Palace

Picture of view from Tuzigoot National Monument The Sinagua of northern Arizona flourished, built impressive pueblos, and mysteriously disappeared at about the same time as the Anasazi. Like the Anasazi, whatever they called themselves is irretrievably lost to history. Because the Sinagua ruins were far from sources of water, the Spanish explorers who discovered them named the vanished builders with a Spanish phrase meaning “without water.” The most impressive Sinagua ruins are in two national monuments in the Verde Valley, 80 kilometers south of Flagstaff.

Horizontal photograph of Montezuma Castle Vertical picture of Montezuma Castle Explorers and settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries assumed that the ruins they found throughout the Southwest were built by the well-known Aztecs of southern Mexico. So American settlers named a Sinagua complex built into a cliff “Montezuma Castle,” after the Aztec ruler who was in power when Hernándo Cortés began the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519.

The Aztecs actually never ventured anywhere near Arizona, and the “castle” was most likely abandoned 100 years before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle was once a “condominium complex” somewhat like a miniature version of the Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, with six stories and 45 rooms.

Picture of Tuzigoot National Monument Picture of view from Tuzigoot National Monument Tuzigoot National Monument is the other major Sinagua ruin in the Verde Valley. Beginning around 1125, the pueblo grew on a hilltop 37 meters above the valley. Originally a small cluster of rooms for 50 people, by the 13th century it was two stories high and had 110 rooms. Tuzigoot means “crooked water” in the Apache language. But that doesn’t imply a connection between the Sinagua people and the Apaches. One of the archaeologists excavating the Tuzigoot ruin in the 1930s decided that Tuzigoot, the name of a nearby spring, would “sound good” as the name of the Sinagua site.

Picture of ladder, Acoma Sky City Picture of staircase, Acoma Pueblo The modern (or at least more recent) versions of the Anasazi cliff cities are the pueblos. Two of the best known pueblos are in New Mexico, the Acoma “Sky City” (left) and the Taos Pueblo (below). The Acoma claim to have continuously occupied their pueblo since before the 12th century.
Picture of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico Photo of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico The Taos pueblo preserves the Pueblo Indians’ way of life as it was centuries ago. They have no electricity or running water, and construct their buildings from adobe bricks in the traditional manner.
Picture of bricks, Taos Pueblo Picture of turquoise door, Taos Pueblo But it looks like they have adopted at least some concessions to modern building practices, such as the brightly-painted doors, complete with windows and screens.

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