Tuesday, March 1, 2016
It's no secret that Larry and I are fans of the National Parks, so I was happy that our trip to New Mexico would include exploring Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier is not considered one of the major national parks (in fact, the NPS designates it a national monument and not a park), but with 33,000 acres of rugged canyon and mesa country within its boundaries, it is not to be missed.
Bandelier is a unique place to visit for a couple of reasons - one, is that human presence can be traced back to 11,000 years there, and two, is that the ancestral people's cliff dwellings still exist and can be accessed by visitors through a series of ladders throughout the park. In 2010, Larry and I enjoyed exploring the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, but those dwellings could only be accessed under the supervision of a park service tour guide. At Bandelier, you are free to climb the ladders and explore the dwellings on your own as you hike throughout the park. (Oh, and thirdly, I read that October is tarantula mating season, so I was excited by the prospect of spotting some giant horny spiders on the trail! Unfortunately, the tarantulas kept their mating rituals private and we didn't get to witness any spider sex.)
The reason we were in New Mexico in the first place was that Larry had a couple of business meetings for an engineering project at Bandelier. After a full day of meetings on Thursday, he had a short meeting on Friday morning and he let me tag along. It was nice to drive out of Santa Fe, through the New Mexico landscape and into the mountains as the sun was coming up. While Larry and his colleagues were in their meeting, I hung out at the Bandelier Visitors' Center and learned about the volcanic activity that formed the geography of the region and the Pueblo people who lived in Bandelier thousands of years ago. The cliffs are made of a volcanic rock called tuff, which is soft and full of air pockets, making it easy for the cliff dwellers to carve out cavates to live in.
When Larry's meeting was finished, we met up for sandwiches and then headed down the main loop trail for a hike. This trail gives a good overview of the geography of the region and provides access to a treasure trove of archaeological sites:
We then hiked down into the Frijoles Canyon and along the river bed. Because rainwater collects in the canyon, there are actual tall green trees growing in the canyon bed - a nice respite from the punishing sun and brown geography of the desert. There was a major flood through the canyon in 2013, and many of the trees had been snapped like matchsticks and strewn about the canyon bed.
We continued on to the Alcove House - a kiva that was once home to 25 ancestral pueblo people. Access required climbing 140 vertical feet on a series of wooden ladders to reach the elevated site of the Alcove House. It was certainly a fun and unique hike:
And the climbing was worth it for this view:
And then we had to climb back down:
And take our traditional photo of the two of us (we try to do this in every park we visit), which turned out horribly:
I probably never would've taken a trip out to Bandelier on my own, so I'm thankful that Larry had a business meeting that gave us a reason to explore this unique park. It's definitely worth the trip if you're in the Santa Fe area.