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The pueblo perches on a 365-foot mesa. In 1892, reporter Charles Lummis called the site “so unearthly beautiful...it is hard for the onlooker to believe himself...upon this dull planet at all.” (© Danny Lehman/CORBIS)

Ancient Citadel

At least 1,200 years old, New Mexico's Acoma Pueblo remains a touchstone for a resilient indigenous culture

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Marvis Aragon Jr., CEO of the tribe's commercial ventures (including its casino), was wearing tribal dress. He danced under the hot sun with scores of Acoma—men and women, young and old. At her home, Correa was serving traditional dishes to friends and family members: green-chili stew with lamb, fresh corn and wheat pudding with brown sugar. Another Acoma artisan, Bellamino (who regards his family's Spanish surname as a symbol of subjugation), sold pottery, silver jewelry and baskets from the front room of his adobe. Later in the day, David Vallo, leader of the tribal council, surveyed the crowds from the edge of the central plaza. "This," he said, "is the time my people come back."

Across the centuries, the mesa—a citadel fortified against threat—has represented Acoma endurance. The sheer sandstone walls have also cast a spell on virtually any traveler who has ventured this way. "I cannot but think that mother nature was in a frenzy when she created this spot," wrote one 19th-century visitor. And Charles Lummis, a journalist who arrived there in 1892, called the site "so unearthly beautiful, so weird, so unique, that it is hard for the onlooker to believe himself in America, or upon this dull planet at all."

Author David Zax is a writing fellow at Moment magazine in Washington, D.C.

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