Bandelier National Monument

Seeing it was still rather warm when we went to bed, we had left all the windows in the camper, to include the overhead sky-window, wide open. We awoke to an unusually brisk morning, with the outdoor thermometer reading 43°. No wonder I slept so well. Hot coffee, and a dash over to the restroom to plug in my nearly depleted phone battery was immediately in order. It seems that as soon as we pulled into Bandelier my phone’s battery decided to suck itself dry, which caused a bit O’ panic, not because I need to be “connected”, but because my phone is my main method of capturing our adventures. While I still carry a notebook in which to write (back up plan), I prefer to use my phone as somehow my thumbs have gotten significantly faster than actual handwriting…or at least legible handwriting. My phone is also past it’s two year “lifespan” of what I believe is a conspiracy of “planned obsolescence” with the phone companies, who know pretty much they have you by the short and curlies. But I digress.

So, back to the day’s adventure.

In the midst of drinking our coffee, we spy movement toward the back of our campsite. It’s deer! Quite a few, in fact, not more than 25 yards from us. We watch as they run and frolick back and forth, the does “teasing” the sole handsomely adorned buck (still in velvet), who is literally “chasing tail”. We narrate, as if we have our own NatGeo show, for some reason…in an accent. What are the chances we picked this campsite, and are treated to such a display of nature in “motion”. It doesn’t get much better than this. After a lite breakfast, we fill our Osprey water bladders for the day’s exploration of Bandelier. When using water bladders in our “day packs”, I prefer the *Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs. They have a hard plastic backing that maintains the bladder’s shape, so it’s not so “lumpy” against your back, especially the small of your back. I am also particularly fond of the magnetic mouth piece. No need to search blindly for the nozzel.

(*FYI, I receive no compensation for products I hightlight. The link(s) I provide for products are merely for your perusal. I normally link to REI, mainly as it is my “go-to” store for most “outdoor” gear purchases, as I have the luxury (and curse) of having not one, but two stores nearby…and I like their shipping and return policy.)

img_20180927_215050996Bandelier National Monument is a 33,750 acre park, adjacent the city of Los Alamos which is located on the Pajarito Mesa, and surrounded by the Santa Fe National Forest, and in its NorthWest corner, Valles Caldera National Preserve. Bandelier was designated a National Monument in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson. This now designated area, first came to prominence and attention due to its namesake, a Swiss “self-taught” anthropologist, Adolph F.A. Bandelier, who “discovered”, explored and documented the canyon dwellings in 1880. The canyon’s dwellings had long since been “abandoned”, having been inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo people up untill the 1500’s, whereupon it is said that they moved into villages along the Rio Grande, because of a sustained drought. Nevermind that the local Cochiti Pueblo people took him there/here, but I’m glad they did, otherwise sites like these would never have been chronicled, studied and/or preserved.

This morning we will take the Frey Trail, a 2mile, 534 ft descent into Frijoles Canyon where we will peruse a sampling of Ancestral Pueblo people’s dwellings. After the passing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which protects cultural and natural resources, Judge Abbott, in 1907, built the “Ranch of the 10 Elders” in the Frijoles Canyon where he acted as the “caretaker” of the archeological sites. The ranch was later run by a Mrs. Frey (1925-33). The trail we walk was the only route, for supplies and access into the canyon, prior to the CCC buliding a road in 1933, and so is aptly named for Mrs. Frey.


While we trotted down the trail, my father stayed behind to “organize things” (read…eat a bigger breakfast and most likely take a nap), saying he would meet us later at the visitor center via the park shuttle. Off we trod, over a well worn and established trail with obvious “improvements” courtesy of the Civilan Conservation Corps (CCC). We are constantly amazed at how hearty, lasting and vast these “signature”contributions of the CCC has made with regard to our National Parks. As we toddle along, the descent is gradual, and it is early enough that we essentially have the park to ourselves. As we peer into the depths of the canyon, its ecosystem is in stark contrast to the rust colored, sheer cliffs, from whence we we came. It is remeniscient of our trip to Aravipa Canyon in Arizona. Narrow leaf Cottonwoods, Ponderosa pines, Water Birch and Yucca plants (to name a few), along with assorted other healthy green vegetation line the canyon floor which is bisected by the year long flowing Frijoles Creek, that is currently meandering at a placid pace.


The remains of a partially excavated round-shaped Pueblo archeological site, we later learn is called Tyuonyi (Qu-weh-nee), beckons below our masterfully maintained trail. When we reach the canyon bottom, we have a decision to make. Go left and head to the Visitors Center to retrieve a walking guide pamphlet and/or seek out a Ranger led tour. Or, right turn, toward the “Long House” which is of hand built/carved cliff dwellings, and explore on our own, where we will later compare our observations and subsequent “theories/assumptions”, with those of the professionals…at the Visitor’s Center. A right turn it is, namely because we spy a Ranger led “pod” of people just leaving the Visitor’s Center a 1/2 mile away.

We walk upon the paved pathway that hugs the edges of what remains of the 800′ long ancient “condominium complex”. Perfectly level and hewn holes indicate where wooden logs were placed to support roofs and/or multi-level floors.

If you look and listen real closely, the remains of the stone and Adobe “bricks”, and remaining aging petroglyphs and pictographs enable your mind’s eye to fill in the “blanks”, and like a “time-machine” you are transported to a “fully” reconstructed 3D imagine of the Ancestral Pueblo people going about their daily routine. Past the Long House, is trail that leads to the Alcove House, that includes a reconstructed Kiva (believed to be a ceremonial structure).

To reach the structure a 140 ft ascent via 4 wooden ladders is required. It is apparent that ladders where a common functional and necessary accoutrement for the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, who I’m sure developed the ability to adroitly scramble up said ladders, hands free, with little to no effort or trepidation, similar to when I was kid and we played “roof tag” by running upon, 2×4 topped, 8ft tall wooden fences. I couldn’t do that now if you paid me…well maybe after significant practice. On second thought, Nope. Wouldn’t/couldn’t do it.

Upon making it to the Alcove House, there is a reinforced/repaired small Kiva and while you can’t venture into the Kiva, an interpretive panel explains it’s interior structure and contents found upon its discovery. Our timing thus far has been impecible. Just as we are done with our perusal, the “pod” of people arrive at the foot of the bottom ladders.


Up they begin to amble as we wait our turn to head down. Once down, we make our way toward the Visitor’s Center on a flat and easy trail. Evidence of a major monsoonal flow with left-over debris from flooding is strewn on the edges of the trail.


While the creek is but a trickle now, it’s route shows a much higher and “regular” volume, whereby the Ancestral Pueblo people most likely had “water-front” property for a good portion of their 400+ years (1150-1550) of inhabiting this canyon. We reach the Visitor’s Center, one of 31 buildings built by the CCC and still in use by the Park Service, although they were vacated, and the park closed to the public for a period during WWII (the strucutres were used to house scientists and personnel involved with the Manhattan Project). Inside the Visitor’s Center, the diaramas and interpretive displays are particularly informative.

It appears that we were mostly correct in our “assumptions”, as it relates to the construction of the Ansestral Pueblan “condos”. As we finish wandering the small but informative Visistor Center, my father appears, having just alighted from his crowded shuttle bus ride to canyon floor. More and more people arrive on their visit to Bandelier. For us, this place seems fairly remote, and we are suprised by the vigorous visitation.

img_20180917_130651291It is nearing noon, and after having already gone through the interpretive displays, we head off on the Falls Trail for a look at the falls (which were NOT running) and a peak at the Rio Grande. A volunteer docent allows us to use his trail guide, as long as we promise to return it. The difference, compared to the prior trails, is that this journey is one of geological exploration as opposed to archeological. We see examples of “tent rocks”, composite rocks and layering of ancient volcanic erruptions.

The fact that this creek is currently dry enables us to really examine the geological “history” of the “life” of this particular water cut path. Because of two significant fires to the area, the Cerro Grande Fire in May of 2000 (a “controlled” burn that got out of control) and the 2011 Las Conchas fire (tree fell on power lines and burned over 75% of the upper canyon) resulted in significant damage done to the vegetation and the soil which made for flashflooding of epic results during the heavy monsoon rainstorm of August 21, 2011, and another one in 2013.


Remaining portion of the Lower Falls trail, as it “empties” into the the Rio Grande

This flash flooding practically filled the canyon floor and further damaged the later portion of the Falls Trail, so that we could not walk past the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls and then down to the Rio Grande. We returned to the Visitor’s Center and returned our trail guide. We considered taking the shuttle back to the campground, however the bus was filled to the brim, and the thought of standing packed like sardines when we are perfectly able to walk, the now 3 miles, back up the Frey Trail to our campsite made our decision easier. As we exited the Visitor’s Center we lighted upon an Interpretitive Ranger eager to share her knowledge of this uniquie and special canyon. We walked and talked along the paved Main Loop Trail that leads to where we were to catch the Frey Trail. She told us of the Ancestral Pueblo people’s farming techniques where they planted crops in a simbiotic relationship methodology (ie. corn with beans, where the beans would grow up the corn stalks). How they had grid gardens that used low earthan walls or rocks for their perimeter to catch and slow the rainfall from washing away their seeds and seedlings, and how they used the local pumice churned into the plot’s soil to slow, “distribute” and/or retain, rainwater or watering by hand. She explained that most of what we see of the structures along the main loop has been excavated, and was mostly filled over with dirt and debris from 100’s of years of natural flooding of this canyon. They still have no definitive answers as to the explicit use of the round Kivas, some large and others much smaller. img_20180917_150000902What they do know is that on the canyon floor, in the late 1400’s (using the tree-ring method of dating via ceiling beam fragments) the bustling village of Tyuonyi was a thriving center of trade where they manufactured pottery, raised turkeys and rabbits, wove blankets and cultivated cotton. As one gentleman that accompanined us as we walked and talked with the Ranger, declared, “I don’t think of these people as primative anymore. This was a well thought out center of commerce.” While I never thought of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, or any other First Nations peoples as primative, I can’t help but be amazed at the craftsmanship of their structures, which using available resources, were engineered with purpose and functionality, brilliantly in tune with their enviroment to include its seasons and the route of the sun over top of the canyon.


With extra knowledge in tow, we continued along the main loop trail toward the bottom of the Frey Trail, but not without climbing through, up, and into several more rehabilitated structures and cliff dwellings wherein it was obvious that they (Ancestral Pueblo people) were much shorter and smaller in stature than Paul or I. In fact, based on graves and artifacts they averaged 5’4″ which is similar to the size and stature of the European peoples during the same time period. Filled to the brim with new knowledge and prespective, we marched up the Frey Trail back to our campsite, excitedly discussing all that we had seen…an 11 mile day. Upon return to the campsite, further discussion continued as my father had had the luxury, and took the time, to read every article of information displayed in/on the Visitor Center interpretive displays. While we saw as much as we could in one day, this park beckons for another visit, particularly during an absent moon; to walk additional trails within Bandelier in hopes of encountering one or more of the 2,000 documented archeological sites; and/or experience this park in winter (it’s open all year long with the exception of Christmas day and New Years). It would be an interesting perspective to experience this park with a “blanket” of snow… and maybe even take a few runs at the Pajarito Ski area.

Tomorrow we head to Los Alamos to visit the Manhatten Project National Historical Park, and the Bradbury Science Museum, then on to Chaco Canyon.

This entry was posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Bandelier National Monument, cliff dwellings, Mini Adventures, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bandelier National Monument

  1. Larry Anderson says:

    Hey all, really enjoying your latest adventure. The pics are great along with the dialogue.—-Vic and Larry

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