A dozen miles east of Grants and 50 miles west of Albuquerque, one of the Southwest’s most intriguing sites, Acoma Pueblo, stands atop a more than 350-foot-high sandstone mesa. Long known as “Sky City,” Acoma is one of the oldest communities in North America, inhabited since AD 1150. The views out across the plains are unforgettable, especially toward Enchanted Mesa on the horizon to the northeast.
Few people live on the mesa today, though the many adobe houses are used by Pueblo craftspeople, who live down below but come up to the mesa-top to sell their pottery and other crafts to tourists. To visit this amazing place, you have to join a guided tour (800/747-0181, daily, call ahead for closures for cultural observances, $25), which begins with a bus ride to the mesa-top and ends with a visit to San Esteban del Rey Mission, the largest Spanish colonial church in the state. Built in 1629, the church features a roof constructed of huge timbers that were carried from the top of Mt. Taylor on the backs of local Native Americans—a distance of nearly 50 miles.
Acoma Pueblo is 15 miles south of I-40, from exit 108 (westbound) or exit 96 (eastbound). Start your visit by appreciating the artifacts displayed in the beautiful Haak’u Museum, at the base of the mesa, where tours of the ancient Sky City begin. The Acoma community also operates the money-spinning Sky City Casino and Hotel (888/759-2489, $89 and up), sited well away from the historic core of the pueblo, right off I-40 exit 102.
Pie Town and the Lightning Field
A long way south of Grants, an old mining camp was so famous for fine desserts it became known as Pie Town. After many years of pielessness, local meringue-lovers lucked out when baker Kathy Knapp opened the Pie-O-Neer Cafe (575/772-2711, Thurs.-Sat.), on old US-60 at milepost 59.
East of Pie Town off US-60, more than 40 miles outside Quemado (the next “town” to the west), the Lightning Field (May-Oct.) is an outdoor “land art” installation by the late great Walter De Maria, who implanted a grid of steel tubes into the high-elevation (7,200 feet above sea level) New Mexico plain with the intention of attracting lightning strikes. The sculpture consists of 400 stainless steel poles, ranging in height from 16 to 27 feet, placed 200 feet apart in a roughly 1-by-0.6-mile rectangular grid. The engineering feat here was to set the poles so that their tops form an exactly level plane. Despite the name, the experience is meant to be about contemplation, rather than spectacle; casual visitors are not allowed, and for the full Lightning Field experience you have to stay overnight in a nearby cabin; meals and transportation to the site are included in the $150-250 per person rates. The Lightning Field is maintained by the same foundation that curates the intriguing Dia-Beacon museum, north of New York City.