Tuesday, June 14, 2011

RV Trip Part 1 - Getting used to BB, Acoma

Somewhere over the winter months it was decided that a trip to see the Grand Canyon and other parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah was in order and the only sensible All-American way to get there was via a rolling behemoth, a/k/a an RV. We perused the options and settled on renting a 25 foot model that sleeps five. Not quite the full blown forty-footer with marble counters, queen bed, flat screen TV and fireplace, ours was more of a baby behemoth, or "BB".

Weeks of planning went into which sights (and sites) to stop at, "must-pack" items, weather, etc. We were happy to see gas prices start to decline in May, for the BB would not be a fuel-sipping Prius. Rather that drive the RV from Dallas across the "flat, treeless, desolate plain" that is the Panhandle, we elected to drive the family van to Albuquerque NM and pick up BB there. We left Dallas around 6pm on Friday, arriving in Amarillo by 11pm and stayed the night in a very forgettable Super 8. Amarillo to Albuquerque is a four hour drive on I-40 and we were at the RV rental joint by 10.30am. Paperwork signed and RV loaded, we hit the interstate by 11.30am and headed west towards Sky City, the ancestral home of the Acoma Pueblo Indians for over 900 years.

What the don't tell you in the 10 minute RV tutorial is that you are driving a giant sail. I was too cautious at first, keeping it around 60mph and when an 18 wheeler would pass at 70, his nose wind would first violently push the RV to the right and as he went by his tailwind sucked the RV back to the left. This weaving, coupled with pots and pans rattling, kids chirping and various window rattles was all a bit unnerving. I soon figured out the best option was to not let the truckers pass me and to try to be the lead dog. The RV actually handled better at 80mph... the Stig would have been proud.

And so to the Acoma Pueblo, about 90 mins west of Albuquerque. Also known as Sky City, the Acoma people settled around 1100 and established on top of a sheer-cliffed 400 foot mesa, a city comprised of over 250 adobe walled dwellings on about 10 acres. No water, electricity or plumbing, in one sense it was a bit like the Aran Islands - but in the middle of semi-desert. At one time it could only be accessed via a secret stair-case hewn into the rock. It has unparalleled 360 degree views of the surrounding area and was deemed impregnable by the Spanish when they first came across it. Approximately 13 families or 40 people live there year round and certain elders remain there for five year stints, almost like a sabbatical. The Acoma fought the Spanish in the early 1600's but were ultimately conquered (tricked into revealing the hidden access), slaughtered / enslaved and forced to build a huge Catholic church starting in 1629. The mission and it's accompanying multi-layered graveyard are impressive feats - given that then there was no road up to the top of the mesa. Timbers were hauled from mountain forests over 40 miles away.

Downtown Pueblo, Saturday Night

The Acoma Indians are proud that they ultimately chased the Spanish away (including throwing some monks off the cliffs) but continue to practice Catholicism and their own traditional belief system side by side. You can only visit the pueblo by guided tour and our native guide was excellent. Today, the Indians make a living by selling pottery and jewelry and like most natives, will only allow a photo if paid a small fee. Of course they also get Federal aid and income from the casino about ten miles away... It is fascinating to see buildings in the US that predate Columbus and even many structures in the Old World. Unlike some tribes, the Acoma have held on to their ancestral lands and seem very capable of embracing the future while proudly remembering their past (see Navajo comparison later).

View from Sky City - the mesa in the distance is similar to the one that Sky City is built on

More adobe homes - ladders face east and are sharpend so as to pierce rain clouds

The Church of St. Stephen, completed 1641

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