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History and Culture > Northern New Mexico History



1. The Puye Ruins in Rio Arriba County preserves one of the largest of the prehistoric Indian settlements on the Pajarito Plateau. The settlement was established in the late 1200s or early 1300s and abandoned by about 1600. The ruins, on the ancestral site of Santa Clara Pueblo, show a variety of architectural forms and building techniques.

2. Mesa Prieta is an elongated mesa situated above the confluence of the Río Grande and the Río Chama and extending north from Ohkay Owingeh to the village of Embudo, covering 36 square miles. Most of the land is privately owned, but it contains as many as 50,000 petroglyphs and other archaeological features that provide a record of area history dating from the Archaic period hunter-gatherers and early Puebloans, and extending to the current period. The mesa is considered a sacred place. The rock art collection is a unique record of impressions by multiple cultures, including Native, Hispanic, and Anglo visitors. The Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project is a private non-profit community venture to record and preserve these stone images and the terrain and to provide education to visitors and local schools through tours, internships, and summer programs.

3. Pueblos are ancestral lands occupied for hundreds of years before the coming of the Spanish. Contemporary Pueblo people are descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived throughout the Heritage Area. Each pueblo operates under its own government and establishes all rules and regulations for its own individual village. Tribal lands are open to the public at scheduled times for tours or attendance at feast days and dances.

Four of the six Tewa pueblos are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Nambé, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Tesuque. Visitors are invited to attend many ceremonies and religious events at the pueblos, such as the June Feast Day at Santa Clara and the January Deer Dance at San Ildefonso. On feast days, it is courteous to accept an invitation to enter a Pueblo home to eat.

The Nambe Pueblo was a primary cultural and religious center at the time of the arrival of Spanish colonists. The name means “People of the Round Earth.” San Ildefonso Pueblo is famous for its matte and polished black-on-black pottery popularized in the early 20th century by Maria and Julian Martinez. Santa Clara Pueblo offers tours of the prehistoric cliff dwellings of Puye, as well as sightseeing, fishing and camping in the nearby canyon. The Tesuque Pueblo (pronounced Teh-sue-kay) is one of the most traditional of the Tewa-speaking pueblos in observing ceremonies and preserving culture. Tesuque dances are known for the excellence of the costumes and the authenticity of the execution of dances and rituals.

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (formerly San Juan Pueblo) has a well-known art center, the Oke Owinge Arts & Crafts Cooperative, where visitors may watch many of the artisans working in a variety of art forms. At the Pojoaque Pueblo (pronounced Po-hwa-kay), the Poeh Museum exhibits Pojoaque cultural history. In the nearby community of Pojoaque is the gallery of well-known pottery artist Roxanne Swentzell. At the annual Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show, Indian artists themselves organize and operate the event.

4. Backed by mountains and facing a large plaza, Taos Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark and also a World Heritage Site. Taos has borrowed from Anglo- and Spanish-American cultures over centuries of contact, while retaining its cultural integrity and identity as a community. The pueblo provides daily guided tours for visitors. Its San Geronimo Feast Day in September features Buffalo, Comanche and Corn Dances, in addition to a trade fair, ceremonial foot races, and a pole climb. Picurís Pueblo (pronounced Pee-coo-reese) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Picurís craftsmen produce pottery different from most Pueblo art; it is strictly utilitarian and without ornament.


Acequias are gravity-flow, communal irrigation ditches that date to the Spanish entry into New Mexico in 1598. By diverting water from rivers and streams to irrigate agricultural fields and pastures, acequias shape the landscape, and community life and regional identity. La Cienega Acequia on the property of El Rancho de las Golondrinas, 12 miles southeast of Santa Fe, is one of the best-preserved acequia systems in New Mexico. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it dates to the era of Spanish colonial settlement. The acequia remains in operation along relatively unchanged alignments and contains several traditional water control devices such as dams, checks, and flumes. El Rancho de las Golondrinas is a living history museum dedicated to the history, heritage and culture of 18th and 19th century New Mexico. Original colonial buildings on the site date from the early 1700s. Also still in operation is the Acequia Madre on the east side of Santa Fe. Community members gather every year to clean the seven-mile-long acequia, which for centuries watered fields of vegetables, wheat and large orchards. Now, surrounded on both sides by houses and business, it waters “fruit trees, gardens, flowers and yards.”

The historic districts of Los Ojos, Tierra Amarilla, La Puente, and Los Brazos, known for their distinct blend of Victorian and traditional adobe architecture, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as significant representations of early Hispanic settlement, as are the La Puente and Tierra Amarilla community ditches. The Tierra Amarilla Land Grant, situated along the Rio Chama, dates to 1832, and permanent settlement in the area took hold in the early 1860s.he Tierra

Food and Agriculture

At Northern New Mexico College, ¡Sostenga! The Center for Sustainable Food, Agriculture, and Environment seeks to preserve and enhance the natural heritage of northern New Mexico through hands-on learning and economic development. As a center for collaboration and research, ¡Sostenga! seeks to foster sustainable living.

The Española Food Hub is a new development under way in Española. The project is a collaborative effort among the City of Española, several non-profit entities, led by Siete del Norte, and several funding organizations, including the National Heritage Area. The Food Hub will establish a regional food distribution network and market for regional agricultural products, and house an advanced dance institute with Moving Arts Española.

The Northern Rio Grande’s living heritage is visible in places such as Chimayó, where chile farmers still irrigate with communal ditches and are renowned for their native green and red chiles. “In autumn, Deborah Madison writes in Saveur magazine, “the scents of apples and of piñon smoke, from fires used to roast the chiles, saturate the air.” Other traditional, favorite foods in New Mexico include Bizcochitos (sugar, anise, and cinnamon cookies) and Pastelitos (fruit pies cut into little rectangles). The Bizcochito is the “Official State Cookie of New Mexico.”




Your Cultural Guide to Northern New Mexico - 2019-2020 Edition

The new FIFTH issue of our Heritage Area publication is now available in Taos, Española, Santa Fe and vicinities at selected magazine stands and visitor centers, and at our National Heritage Center in Alcalde. You may read it online at

Meet the Artists > Types of Art > Performing Arts > Music

Piñon, Lone

Piñon, Lone

Lone Piñon
Lone Piñon is an acoustic conjunto from Northern New Mexico whose music celebrates the integrity of their region's cultural roots. Multi-instrumentalists Noah Martinez and Jordan Wax use the fiddle, bajo quinto, accordion, quinta huapanguera, mandolin, guitars, and bilingual vocals to play a wide spectrum of the traditional music that is at home in New Mexico.

The Norte has long been a crossroads of cultures, and centuries of intersecting histories, trade routes, migrations, and cultural movements have endowed the region with an expansive and rich musical heritage.



The Spanish and Indian Markets are two of the most popular cultural events within the Heritage Area, drawing visitors from all over the world. Every year, artists showcase and sell their work before a jury of their peers.

Spanish Market is held every July in Santa Fe. The market fills booths around the plaza and surrounding streets. Artwork includes pottery of all kinds, as well as other traditional crafts such as Colcha embroidery, hand-loomed blankets and rugs, santos (paintings of saints and the holy family), and bultos (wood carvings of saints, figures, and scenes from the Scripture). The market also has a section for contemporary art and a strong program for youth.

Indian Market is held every August. Native American artists from all the Southwest tribes and pueblos, as well as from other areas, show their work and also enter it in a juried event. A wide variety of arts are shown, including pottery, weavings, carvings, paintings, baskets, and kachinas. Contemporary entries include clothing designed by American Indians.

Also noteworthy is the annual Española Valley Arts Festival in Española. A good place to sample foods grown in northern New Mexico is the Santa Fe Farmers' Market, considered one of the Top 10 Farmers' Markets in the country. Also popular is the Española Farmers’ Market and the annual Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta*.*

What We Do > Projects & Partnerships


“Luz es Vida” is a themed series of events, projects and youth education programs in Questa and the surrounding areas, collaboratively organized by Land, Experience and Art of Place (LEAP) to highlight and celebrate the local, natural and cultural heritage of the area. The events and youth education programs are designed to have local value to community members as well as appeal to visitors. This year’s theme, “Luz es Vida” is inspired by UNESCO’s 2015 "International Year of Light".


The Heritage Area has embarked on several strategic partnerships to expand the recognition of our programs and our effectiveness in providing service to the community. These partnerships affect different strategic priorities including education, cultural preservation, and economic development.

In alliance with the Northern New Mexico College we have addressed preservation and protection of heritage weaving practices and traditions, preserving the Rio Grande style of weaving that has been practiced in Chimayó and other northern communities. We have been successful in obtaining a memorial from the State Legislature and in generating a study effort with the State to define protective practices. We are considering other strategic alliances with other educational institutions to promote educational efforts in historic preservation, cultural documentation, and industry practices.

We have developed an alliance with the State Historic Records Advisory Board to target historic records archival practices among the pueblos, county governments, and individual community organizations. In addition to providing small grants to support records archiving practices, we have also assigned an individual Board member to provide consultation, training, and guidance on records management and archiving practices. We are considering creating an area symposium/training workshop on records management with area educational institutions.

We are creating partnerships with Santa Fe County, Rio Arriba County, and Taos County to create and implement joint cultural and economic development efforts in each county. In Santa Fe County we are creating a virtual artists' marketing initiative that will promote individual artists on the Heritage Area website. With Rio Arriba County we are working to create a regional multi-cultural interpretive center, that will support presentation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Northern New Mexico. In Taos County we are evaluating participation in restoration of a significant cultural property within the Town of Taos in partnership with the County.

What We Do > Who We Are > Board

David Fernandez

David Fernandez

Board Member - Community Member, Taos
David Fernandez de Taos is a Native Taos New Mexican whose Spanish family heritage here is from the early 17th century and whose Navajo family heritage goes centuries more farther back than that. He has been a published author and newspaper writer and columnist for the past 44 years whose present writing includes the English-language column "The Blessing Way" and the Spanish-language column "Espiritu del Norte" in The Taos News; is author of his self-published book "Divine Light and Divine Blood" about the Taos Morada in 2010; and numerous other works.

David is a life-long participant in the spiritual, cultural, historical, and political aspects of life in El Norte and beyond; is a former Taos County Commissioner; and is active in ministries of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Taos. His special interest is to advance the spiritual rapprochement and relations among the cultures and peoples of the Northern Rio Grande region and beyond.



Bienvenidos (Spanish), Be-Po-Wa-Ve (Tewa), He-Ya-Ho (Tiwa), Daanzho (Apache). These are all ways to say, Welcome! to the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area.

Each of these languages is still spoken in Northern New Mexico, a Cradle of Settlement that encompasses a mosaic of cultures, including the Jicarilla Apache, 8 Tewa and Tiwa Native Pueblos, and communities established by the descendants of Spanish colonists who settled in the area beginning in 1598, a generation before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

Residents continue to speak their native languages along with English, and to share the traditions and practices of their ancestors in a cultural expression that leaves a strong imprint on residents and visitors alike. Indeed, visitors are advised that most of the place names and references are in Spanish, with Spanish pronunciations.

The Heritage Area stretches south to north from I-40 in the center of the State to the Colorado border. Area boundaries include all of Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos counties, a total area of 10,000 square miles in North-central New Mexico.

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Art Exhibition: "Without Borders: Arté Sín Fronteras"
A partnership Project with History Colorado Center.

Official Site:

Without Borders: Arte Sín Fronteras  was a unique collaboration of contemporary art and cultural history between the Northern Río Grande National Heritage Area & History Colorado, (El Pueblo History Museum & History Colorado Center (Denver).

The exhibition highlighted a diverse range of art media from an impressive collective of artists that address concepts of  living and working within what are called at times homelands  and other times borderlands.  The work of citizen artists shed light on a dialogue that goes back long before our current definitions of statehood.  Language, culture, tradition, and environment are all at the core of how people express ideas about cooperation, education, & resistance in the diversely populated & perpetually contested land that is New Mexico.  

Featured New Mexican Artists:

Thomas Vigil, Erin Currier, Roxanne Swentzell, Rose B. Simpson, Cara Romero, Leland Chapin,  Jodie Herrera, Vicente Telles, Olivia Romo, Lynnette Haozous, Frank Blazquez, Arlene Ladell Hayes, Adria Malcolm, Alberto Zalma, Valerie Rangel, & Leah Prada Harrison, and Dr. Chip Thomas, aka Jetsonorama.