Northern New Mexico is a place unlike any other in the United States. The culture, the landscape, and the climate each have their own unique characteristics that distinguish this little corner of America from where you live.
Begin with the only inhabited UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States: Taos Pueblo. If you can imagine what it was like about 500 years ago when the first Spanish explorers arrived to find the Pueblo Indians living in massive adobe structures, you'll be well on your way to understanding how surprised many Americans are on their first visit. Those buildings still stand much the way they were centuries ago.
One way to think of the Taos Pueblo is to see it as a place out of time -- its very existence has required tremendous efforts from its people to preserve. Keeping the industrial and technological world at bay while also preserving a language that exists only in spoken form are just some of the reasons that Taos Pueblo consistently ranks among the Best of the Best. For some visitors it's unbelievable and for many it's downright unsettling, because it quickly becomes obvious that the accumulation of wealth in the form of "things" means little or nothing to the Taos Indians.
The arrival of Spanish explorers and settlers in the early 1600's added a new cultural dimension to Taos that also strongly survives into the 21st Century. Native Americans already had their religious and spiritual traditions as well as a unique economy based in agriculture and trade. As history now instructs, the Spanish also brought their religious, cultural and agricultural economic traditions. Although early disputes arose and violent clashes resulted in the 1600's, the Spanish and the Native Americans long ago settled their disputes with formal recognition of Pueblo lands and water rights as well as acceptance of the unique cultural and religious rights possessed by the Pueblo's.
With that historical undercurrent beneath the culture of this region, you'll find the strong and steady presence of Native Americans and the descendants of early Spanish settlers in every town of Northern New Mexico -- especially Taos.
Layer on top of those old relationships the relatively new presence of Americans and you'll add another dimension to a complex culture created by struggle and change. More than anything, change in this region has often been resisted. Waves of American culture have swept across the region and have layered their cultural distinctiveness upon the existing traditions. Artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Hippies in the 1960's and 70's, and now retirees seeking the solace of this place have each come and called Taos home.
In future posts, I'll discuss the changes brought by wave after wave of settlement, but more than anything you should understand that despite it all, Taos believes only in changes that can be proven to improve the quality of life. It's different here.