Visiting the Magnificent Pueblos of New Mexico


Article by Linda Kissam, photos by Allan Kissam

On this episode of Big Blend Radio, travel writer Linda Kissam shares her guided tour experience of San Ildefonso Pueblo just outside Santa Fe in Northern New Mexico. 

“If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come.” Arapaho

Ever been to Santa Fe, New Mexico? It’s a place of light, inspiration, hope, culture, and history. You should definitely go there.

My husband and I decided to travel via car from Tucson, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico for an IFWTWA writers conference. As soon as we hit the New Mexico border, we began seeing exit signs for Pueblos. I was soon to understand that name has great significance in the total Santa Fe experience.

There is a difference between an Indian reservation and a Pueblo. An Indian reservation is a legal designation for an area of land managed by a federally recognized Native American tribe under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs rather than the state governments of the United States in which they are physically located.

In the Southwestern United States, the term Pueblo refers to communities of Native Americans, both in the present and in ancient times. The first Spanish explorers of the Southwest used this term to describe the communities housed in apartment structures built of stone, adobe mud, and other local material.

Today there are now 19 pueblos in New Mexico, each with its own government but sharing common prehistory and culture. The Northern Pueblos of New Mexico represent eight of the 19 Pueblo Tribes in the state. They are the oldest tribal communities in the US having descended from the ancestral cultures that once inhabited Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Bandelier.


Let me say that Santa Fe, New Mexico with its glorious and distinctive shopping, historical lodging and culinary delights is a great place to discover on its own. But… there is so much more to discover about this area just a few miles down the road.

I was based at the La Fonda Inn in downtown Santa Fe (can you say WOW?!) for 5 days. This place has a history unlike any hotel I have stayed at before. It is the perfect place to serve as a base for your Santa Fe and Pueblo adventure.

Part of my conference package included a side trip to one of the Pueblos.

While you can visit many of the Pueblos on your own, a guided tour is preferable the first time. It was my absolute pleasure to take a side trip with several other writers to the San Ildefonso Pueblo with guide and former governor of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Elmer Torres. The day tour ($225 per person) included the following four wondrous components.

An energetic guided hike to the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument located on State Highway 4 twelve miles from the main section of the park. At Tsankawi, you take a 1.5-mile walk along a high scenic mesa, viewing cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. Surprisingly, ladders are a required part of this trail. If you can’t make the entire 1.5 miles, go as far as you can to immerse yourself in this transcendent hike. I made it to the first Mesa.  My husband did the entire 1.5-mile loop.

A pottery demonstration from local artist Madelyn Naranjo. Ours took place within the host’s home. It was fascinating to not only see how local pottery is made (with beginning thanks and blessings on the process), but also hear the artist talk about the spiritual aspect of each piece and her journey to becoming a professional potter.

A generous meal at the host’s family feast day home in the plaza of San Ildefonso Pueblo was prepared by Deborah Torres. We were served a traditional feast day menu. It couldn’t have been better.  Each dish was a masterpiece of history and love. Served family-style we enjoyed many traditional items such as tasty bowls of chicken in red chile and ground beef in green chile, watermelon, and tamales. The conversation was lively. Certainly, no one left the table hungry.

A tour of the pueblo. Our tour took place on foot just outside the host’s home. At first look, you might think hmmmm…how can I learn anything from this space of dirt, trees, traditionally built homes, a church, and school? Listening closely to the guide, the mind quickly tells the eyes to shift to seeing inspiring cultures and traditions that have existed in the region for more than 600 years. Everything from the dirt to the trees to the pueblos represents an experiential discovery into values and philosophy so deep and meaningful that a girl might just find a tear or two running down her face. Just saying.

I highly recommend you take one of the many tours offered by the Torres family. This one exceeded all of my expectations. I suspect all of the tours will be a deep and meaningful quest for you. I’ve decided my next tour will include attending a feast day celebration. Check out the tours here As one of our valued readers, Elmer Torres will give you a 10% discount on his tour. Just use the code “Radio10” when booking. (Offer good until Dec 2020.) 

Just a reminder.  There are rules that go along with visiting Pueblos. Each tribe has their own, but here is a roundup of 10 suggestions to keep in mind to avoid misunderstandings or violations of customs while visiting a Pueblo.

1. Each Pueblo operates under its own government and establishes all rules and regulations for its own village.
2. Although many Pueblos are open to the public during daylight hours, the homes are private and should not be entered without an invitation.
3. Do not enter Kivas or graveyards without permission.
4. Stay off structures like walls. Many are several hundred years old and can be damaged easily.
5. Stay with your guide (or by yourself) in the immediate village area. Do not wander.
6. Removing any artifacts or objects, such as pieces of broken pottery or feathers, is not allowed. Not only is it inappropriate behavior it is bad Karma.
7. No pets.
8. Drive slowly and obey posted speed limits at all times which are generally much slower than city speeds.
9. Alcohol, weapons, and drugs are not allowed.
10. Ask before you take photos.

Enjoy your experience!

Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit



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