Zia is a small pueblo 35 miles northwest of Albuquerque (19 miles west of Bernalillo on US 550). Today it has fewer than 1,000 residents, but when the conquistador Don Francisco de Coronado first visited there in 1540, it had ten times that number. One of the few pueblos that have made no accommodations at all for tourism (they don’t even run a casino), Zia Pueblo nonetheless welcomes visitors. (Their philosophy is that they wish to offer hospitality to visitors, not sell it to them.) It’s a good idea to stop at the Tribal Offices on the way in to let them know you’re there before you head up to the village.
Zia Pueblo is situated on top of a small mesa, and consists mainly of small, charming houses made of cobblestone and mud. Its lovely old church, Nuestra Señora de la Asuncíon (Our Lady of the Assumption) perches at the northern edge of the village. Built in 1610 and rebuilt in 1692 after the Pueblo Revolt, the whitewashed church is decorated with yellow and white horses painted by Ralph Aragon, a local artist.
At the other end of the village, Zia Pueblo’s plaza is nestled among one-story houses. A white cross in the plaza commemorates the mass baptism that took place there in 1692.
I-25 South to Bernalillo Exit. Highway 550 to Zia Pueblo. About 64 miles..
The ancestors of the people of Zia Pueblo migrated from Chaco Canyon around the year 1250 in search of more fertile lands. They found them: the Jemez River flows through the land near Zia Pueblo’s mesa village.
Coronado himself was a frequent visitor to Zia, as he spent the winter of 1541 nearby. He so trusted the Zia people that he left four cannons in their care when he set off that spring on his search for gold.
Zia Pueblo fought against the Spanish in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Their original church, like most mission churches, was almost completely destroyed. Despite—or perhaps because of—a terrible defeat in 1687 when Zia and nearby Santa Ana Pueblo resisted an earlier attempt at Spanish reconquest, the people of Zia Pueblo welcomed Don Diego de Vargas and his men when they successfully reentered New Mexico in 1692. De Vargas promised the Zia more gentle treatment at the hands of the soldiers and missionaries. The Franciscans with him then baptized (or in some cases, rebaptized) the entire tribe on the village plaza. Zia Pueblo even lent their support to De Vargas as he marched to reclaim Santa Fe.
There’s a charming story about the bell that used to grace Nuestra Señora de la Asuncíon’s bell tower. Legend says that it was the envy of the southern pueblos, with a peal that could be heard all the way to Santa Ana Pueblo. During a terrible drought, the Zia people decided to back up their prayers with a sacrifice. They took down their precious bell and buried it in the side of the mesa. It’s still in there somewhere as far as anyone knows.
Today, Zia Pueblo, like other New Mexico tribes, is working to regain lands lost to the United States government. In addition, they are suing the State of New Mexico for royalties for the (unauthorized) use of their Zia sun symbol as the emblem of New Mexico.