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Bandelier National Monument - Hike and Visit Ancestral Pueblo Structures

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Bandelier National Monument

Climb Into the Ancient Ruins at Bandelier

©Elizabeth R. Rose

Visit Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico:

A visit to Bandelier is a great way to learn about the ancestral pueblo people and envision them in the beautiful valley that is set aside as the National Monument.

It is not often that you can actually climb in to ancient structures using ladders just as the ancestors did. You can do this at Bandelier. You can watch archaeologists as they uncover more structures and oversee an actual Kiva. The beauty of the park and the unusually accessible ancient structures makes Bandelier a must see!

Finding Bandelier National Monument:

Bandelier is approximately one hour north of Santa Fe. Directions and Printable Maps

Visitors Center:

The visitors center at Bandelier has displays, a nice book store and a place to purchase a postcard or fridge magnet. There is also a gift shop where you can find some very nice Native American jewelry and pottery. There is a snack bar and restrooms available. The buildings are interesting in themselves and were constructed as CCC projects.

Hours:

Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center is open daily except: Closed December 25 and January 1. General hours are: Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Winter: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Spring/Fall: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Park Hours: Frijoles Canyon and Tsankawi are open to recreation from 7 AM - 7 PM. Other day use areas (Cerro Grande, Burnt Mesa, Alamo Boundary, etc) are open from dawn to dusk. Backpacking permits must be obtained for any overnight stays in the park's backcountry.

Ancestral Pueblo Structures:

The best way to see the structures is to take the Main Loop which leaves from the back of the Visitors Center. This trail will lead you to an impressive group of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings up in Frijoles Canyon. The first part of the trail is easy but if you want to actually climb into the structures, prepare for a bit of climbing, ladder scaling, and narrow stairs. I highly recommend doing this.

Geology:

Volcanic eruptions more than 1 million years ago created the Jemez Mountains. Ash settling like a skirt on the eastern flank of the mountains solidified into rock layers, known as the Bandelier Tuff, up to nine hundred feet thick, that formed the Pajarito Plateau. The plateau slopes gently to the southeast from the mountains to the Rio Grande, ranging in elevation from about 5,000 feet to more than 10,000 feet on the higher peaks of the Jemez.

History:

Bandelier National Monument was visited by Adolph Bandelier in 1880. Bandelier came to New Mexico Territory under the sponsorship of the Archaeological Institute of America. His work laid the foundation for much of Southwestern archaeology.

Bandelier National Monument was created in 1916 as part of a broader Federal effort to protect important archaeological sites. There are many ancestral sites in the Monument that visitors can see, some not far from the Visitors Center.

Fees:

$12.00 per vehicle. $6.00 per person entrance fee for visitors traveling on foot or bicycle.

Ranger-Led Tours:

If you want to learn about what you are seeing, purchase a trail guide or, better yet, go on a free Ranger-guided walk. They will take you along the Main Loop Trail. Other free and fee programs are available. Ask at the Visitors Center

Visit Bandelier National Monument to Put History into Perspective:

I've traveled the Southwest, visited historic sites and Pueblos, but it wasn't until I visited Bandelier National Monument, that I developed a sense of perspective on the history of the native peoples of the area.

I recommend viewing the 10-minute introductory video they have at the Visitor's Center and have a look at the museum displays.

The area has been occupied by people for perhaps as much as 10,000 years. Between 1150 and 1325, the valley was settled by ancestors of the present Pueblo Indians. They were farmers, refugees from places like Chaco Canyon, the San Juan Basin and Mesa Verde. They were looking for water and fertile land.

At Bandelier, you can visit these cliff dwellings, actually see a Kiva (off limits when you are on today's reservations) and climb a high trail to oversee the valley and the early settlement.

In the 1300's to 1500's people moved from the Bandelier area to villages along the Rio Grande, making up the Pueblos of today. They are all about within 80 miles of the park.

Once the importance of what you are seeing settles in, you can continue hiking and just enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

More information on Bandelier.

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