New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument preserves over 30,000 acres of New Mexico’s mesa and canyon landscape, including the history of over 11,000 years of a human presence on this land as seen in ancient rock dwellings, petroglyphs, and old stone walls.
Over 70 miles of hiking trails, both short and long are located within the park adjacent to the Visitor Center and throughout the backcountry. One of the most popular short trails is the Main Loop Trail, which is known to offer “the most for the least.” The 1.2-mile trail takes approximately 45 minutes to complete and passes by several of the Ancestral Puebloan structures. Ladders along the trail allow visitors to climb up into the cavates, small hand-carved cliff-side caves. Just off the Main Loop trail is a 1-mile roundtrip journey to the Alcove House, formally named the Ceremonial Cave. Four sections of ladders take guests 140 feet up into the Alcove House, which contains a reconstructed kiva and the ancient entrances to what would have been several rooms within one home. Four trails, the two Upper Frijoles Loop trails, the Cerro Grande trail and the Alamo Boundary trail, are open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter months. The only trail on which snow is removed during the winter is the Main Loop trail.
Longer, backcountry trails are popular for guests who are backcountry camping. The three main routes take over 12 hours to complete, and involve some steep climbing and switchbacks over rugged terrain. Painted Cave is a challenging hike that culminates in a visit to a cave containing several pictographs, or ancient paintings, on the rock walls.
Historical features of the National Monument include a Big Kiva, a stone walled circular structure used for ceremonies and public meetings, and a stone Tyuonyi, which was once two stories high. Visitors can now see the ruins of the walls, which outlined some 400 rooms used to store food. A Talus House, reconstructed in 1920, exemplifies the stone buildings in front of the cliff side cavates, which were built out of rocks that had fallen from the cliff. A similar structure, the Long House, contains hundreds of the Monument’s petroglyphs, carved drawings in the rock walls. A museum at the Visitor Center includes two large dioramas on the history of the Ancetral Pueblo people, including artifacts, pottery and tools that would have been used at the site.
Visitors who wish to stay overnight in the park have three different camping options. The Juniper Campground is a family campground designed for groups of 10 or fewer. The Ponderosa Campground is more suitable for groups of 10 or more. Permits are also available for backcountry camping.
History: Rock dwellings and stone houses at the park were built by the Ancestral Pueblo people between the 12th and 16th century. By the mid 1500’s, draught had forced the population further south to the Rio Grande in search of land that was fertile enough for farming. These cultures still exist today, with the Cochiti Pueblo of the Rio Grande today’s closest relation to the Ancestral Pueblo.
Spanish settlers arrived in the region in the mid 1700’s. The American archeologist Adolph Bandelier, for whom the National Monument is named, was brought to the site in 1880 and exclaimed that it was the “grandest” thing he’d ever seen. Bandelier’s research and documentation led to the site being marked for preservation by President Wilson in 1916. The park has since been designated as a National Historic Landmark for the 31 rustic structures built there by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The park suffered severe damage in the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire. While some of the trails have since been refurbished, many of the backcountry trails are still damaged, or the terrain has drastically changed. The fire, which began when a tree fell on a power line, burned through 150,000 acres of New Mexico and was, at the time, the largest fire in the state’s history.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Guided ranger-led tours begin at the Visitor Center and take guests on short walks to the Tyuonyi pueblo. Rangers lead backcountry hikes, moonlight tours and other interpretative walks. Evening programs include Ranger talks at the Juniper Campground Amphitheater. Topics cover wildlife at the park, the park’s history, archeo-astronomy and survival skills. Night Sky programs include an Observe the Moon Night, guided summer stargazing and winter star parties. Cultural demonstrations take place each summer weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The demonstrations include pottery making and drum making, bread backing in an outdoor oven, and blanket making from turkey feathers. The Ancestral Pueblo were breeding turkeys as far back as 200 BC, for use in blanket weaving, and as food.
15 Entrance Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544, Phone: 505-672-3861
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