Bandelier National Monument

It was Veterans Day and the National Park Service was waiving entrance fees. I took the day off work and visited Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier is located near Los Alamos, but there is no easy way to get there from Albuquerque. I took the “shortcut”, straight over the mountain. Read about it in my post “Road to Bandelier“.

Start of the Main Loop Trail as it leaves the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center is located in Frijoles Canyon.  In ancient times Ancestral Pueblo people lived here, in free standing villages and against the cliffs.  Descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo people now live in Pueblos along the Rio Grande valley.  The Pueblo most closely related to the people who lived in the Frijoles Canyon is Cochiti.

Bandelier NM contains 33,727 acres and numerous trails for hiking.  Because of the “shortcut” I took getting here, I did not arrive until after noon.  With sunset occurring just after 5:00, I limited myself to the Main Loop Trail and the Alcove House.

I started my hike in the Visitor Center, where I talked to Chris, a ranger who has been at Bandelier since 1976.  Chris just started writing the Facebook page for Bandelier a couple weeks ago.  Chris recommended visiting Tsankawi as well, so I left time for a visit there.  After getting my National Parks Passport stamped, I began walking along the Main Loop Trail.

Main Loop Trail

This is one of the three kivas located within the walls of Tyuonyi. The Big Kiva is located outside the village.

The Main Loop Trail is 1.25 miles long.  It is paved and wheelchair accessible to Tyuonyi.  There are inclines and steep, narrow stairs to the cliff dwellings and the Long House.

The first major point of interest along the trail is the Big Kiva.  This kiva has been reconstructed, but without a roof to allow visitors to see inside.  Entrance is prohibited.  A kiva is an underground room that was the center of the community for religious activities, education, and decision making.

One to two stories high, Tyuonyi contained about four hunderd rooms and housed approximately 100 people. A central plaza contained three kivas. Access to the village was through a single ground-level opening.

Just beyond the Big Kiva is the village of Tyuonyi.  This village may have been a place of meeting between speakers of the Tewa language, who today live north of the canyon, and speakers of Keres, who today live to the south.

Often rooms were built in front of cavates. This house was reconstructed in 1920, but today it is believed the reconstruction is not quite accurate. Access was probably from the roof, not through a door in front.

The trail takes a right turn just past Tyuonyi and leads to the cliff dwellings.  Those who do not wish to climb the steep stairs can bypass this portion of the trail and go to the Long House.

Volcanic tuff has been eoded into a tall shape called a hoodoo. From this angle, it looks like a monster guarding the cliff houses.

Bandelier is located on the Pajarito Plateau.  This area is composed of volcanic ash that has been compressed and turned to rock.  The rock is called tuff, and is quite soft.  It is susceptible to erosion and can be worked relatively easily.  The people who lived here would enlarge naturally-occurring rooms (cavates)  to use for storage.

People would live in these caves, and often would build 2 and 3 story houses in front of them. Note the person climbing a ladder inside one of the caves.

Wind and water act on volcanic tuff to erode it, sometimes into fantastical shapes.  Tall shapes are called hoodoos.  Often there is a harder rock on top that protects the softer rock below from being completely eroded away.

Houses were built against the cliff face two and three stories high, often incorporating caves in the cliff, where possible.

Frey Trail branches off from the Main Loop Trail.  Steep switchbacks lead up to the canyon rim and to Juniper Campground.

Above the top story of the houses are hundreds of petroglyphs. Far from being "rock art", these figures had specific meanings to the people who drew them. Recent research suggests that they may even be a form of written language. How many shapes can you pick out in this photograph? Click to enlarge.

Along the base of the cliff, rows of houses were built in a structure referred to as the Long House.  At its peak in the late 1400s, the population of Frijoles Canyon was estimated to number more than 500.  Cave dwellings are located along the south-facing canyon wall in order to catch the afternoon sun and warmth during the winter.

Alcove House

A half mile walk along Frijoles Creek (In Spanish it is called El Rito de los Frijoles, or "little river of beans") brings one to the ladders leading to the Alcove House.

The trail to the Alcove House splits off from the Main Loop Trail.  To enter the Alcove House, one must climb four ladders, ascending 140 feet above the canyon floor.  Inside the Alcove House is a reconstructed kiva.  The climber is rewarded with spectacular views of Frijoles Canyon.

Three of the four ladders leading to the Alcove House can be seen in this photo. Click to enlarge.

The intrepid adventurer attempts the climb to the Alcove House.

The intrepid adventurer is looking for a "golden foot" in an ancient kiva. Alas, no artifacts were found.

The path down from the Alcove House is just as challenging as the climb up.

Adventure Maps

Bandelier National Monument – Main Loop Trail at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking in New Mexico

Note the ladder climb up to the Alcove House.

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