Sky City

New Mexico

Journeying to the mesa-top village at Acoma Pueblo, famous as Sky City, is like venturing into another world. There can be few more dramatic locations – more than 300 structures are set atop an isolated outcrop, 367ft above the surrounding plateau and 7000ft above sea level. People have lived here since the 11th century, making Acoma one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. Visitor etiquette rules about photography and attire can be viewed on the website.

In addition to its singular history and stunning setting, it's also justly famous for its pottery, sold by individual artists on the mesa. There is a distinction between 'traditional' pottery (made with clay dug on the reservation) and 'ceramic' pottery (made elsewhere with inferior clay and simply painted by the artist), so ask the vendor. Visitors can only see the village on guided tours, which leave from the Sky City Cultural Center at the foot of the mesa. To avoid potential long waits here – or unexpected closures (it happens) – it’s best to call in advance to reserve a specific time. The highlight of the tour itself is the mission church of San Esteban del Rey, decorated with pueblo motifs. All visitors ride a shuttle van to and from the mesa top. The Cultural Center also holds the excellent Haak’u Museum of pueblo history, a good shop and a decent cafe.

Photography permits can be obtained when you pay your admission fee. The pueblo asks that no revealing clothing be worn during tours out of respect for religious leaders who live on the mesa top.

Directions on the Acoma Sky City website send travelers from Albuquerque and points east to exit 102 off the I-40W. It's not the most direct route to the Cultural Center and its tours, but it does provide a dramatic first look at Sky City from a lofty scenic viewpoint on the drive in. You can return to Albuquerque on paved Indian Road 23, which is a straight shot north to exit 108 off the I-40. Sky City is one hour east of Gallup and one hour west of Albuquerque.

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