Photo above: View from a cavate on the Main Loop Trail, Bandelier National Monument. Right: Elk Pond in autumn. Photos courtesy National Park Service.
Bandelier National Monument
Ancestral Puebloan homes and structures in the Frijoles Canyon area are some of the best examples of southwest United States Indian dwellings, easily accessible from the main Visitor Center area. Whether you visit these trails and structures on a guided tour or on your own, you can climb into the cavates and imagine how the ancestors of the United States lived centuries ago. Bandelier is a treat for visitors, and not that heavily visited. While it now requires a shuttle bus trek from White Rock during the height of the summer season, which we're not too sure of the need, don't let that deter you. What you're about to see is worth that small inconvenience. And you'll be next to several other interesting parks and sites with a disparate calling; Los Alamos and the Valles Caldera Preserve. It's a wonder how all these amazing sites got grouped together.
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It's southwest culture of the most awesome kind. Yes, a landscape that rolls, and drops, along trails and vistas into canyons that have seen so much history. But it's in that history, those dwellings that sit along the mountainsides and the kivas in the valleys below that will take your breath away. Step back in time. Imagine the life that was lived here. Remove yourself from the phone and climb into a cavate.
Photo above: Tyuonyi Village from the Frey Trail. Courtesy National Park Service. Photo below: Big Kiva at Bandelier, 1940, North American Buildings Survey, Donald W. Dickensheets. Courtesy Library of Congress.
President Woodrow Wilson designated Bandelier a National Monument on Feburary 11, 1916, well before that was considered controversial. But there's no real controversy here about the history that has been preserved and witnessed for the past one hundred years.
Structures of the Puebloan people here date back to 1150. There are pueblo homes and ceremonial kivas used for four hundred years before severe drought made it impossible to grow enough crops on the mesa top and the Puebloans moved on. What they built and left behind is an amazing tapestry of life during that time, a lifespan that usually lasted only thirty-five years. The homes were built with volcanic tuff and mud mortar. Cavates, carved rooms, were also built behind the structures.
From 1916 until today, the pueblos and kivas of the Puebloan culture have been preserved, including Alcove House, one hunred and forty feet above Frijoles Cavern. It was home to about twenty-five at the time of occupation and previously known, as the 1940 photos show, as Ceremonial Cave. Talus House, which was reconstructed in 1920, and Long House, three to four stories tall with interesting petroglyphs, are but two other examples of Puebloan structures. Big Kiva, once roofed, was a communal gathering place. Talus, Long, and Big Kiva can be visited along the Main Loop Trail. Beyond the various structures, there are the natural features of the park where Frijoles Creek drops down two waterfalls toward the Rio Grande River. You can take the Falls Trail from the Overflow Parking lot to visit them; it's 1.75 miles to the Lower Falls, which may not yet be repaired and open for use past the Upper Falls.
Interesting Fact: Bandelier was home to two different Puebloan groups: Tewa and Keres, who had different languages.
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Things You Should Not Miss
1. Visit the Bandelier Visitor Center. Exhibits, orientation, films, and ranger guided tours (summer). From here, you can take one of the many hikes to the main Frijoles Canyon ancestral sites. Remember, in summer, during the day, you must take a shuttle from the White Rock Visitor Center. We're not in favor of this, but it's required, and worth the trouble.
2. Take a hike. If you're able, you just have to take one of the main trails to the ancestral sites. The Main Loop Trail, 1.2 miles long will take you to the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. It's a must. Probably take you an hour. The Alcove House Trail and Falls Trail are also popular. All told, there are seventy miles of trials in the park, with some up to ten miles long. Only do those hikes which you are capable of, and bring plenty of water.
3. If you're in Bandelier on a summer Saturday night, take in one of the great evening programs. Check at the Visitor Center or Juniper Campground for the schedule. On Thursday nights, there's the usual Night Sky, Explore the Stars, program at the campground amphitheater. And on special full moon nights, you can take the Moonlight Walk. Reservations required and a limited amount of spots for that.
4. For a special day, check out the Fall Fiesta, usually in the beginning of October. There are native displays, Pueblo arts, and more.
Photo above: Looking out from Ceremonial Cave, 1940, Historic American Buildings Survey, Donald W. Dickensheets. Courtesy Library of Congress.