Tom and I spent some time in the Sante Fe, New Mexico area because there were a bunch of National Park sites we had not seen. We stayed in a central location and ventured out each day to see what we could find. The first National Park site we visited in Sante Fe was Bandelier National Monument. The name makes me envision the old west and Spanish bandits with gun belts slung over their shoulders. After all, that is what a bandelier is. I was predisposed to this idea after the day we spent in historic Santa Fe.
But Bandelier National Monument doesn’t have anything to do with Spanish bandits. Instead, it is another example of an Ancestral Puebloan site. Bandelier National Monument protects 33,000 acres riddled with petroglyphs, dwellings carved into rock faces, and masonry walls. One of the things that makes Bandelier different is the visitors can climb up ladders into the cave rooms carved into the face of the soft volcanic tuff.
The dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans preserved at Bandelier are among the latest built and defined as Ancestral. People lived here until 1500, when they moved into the Rio Grande Valley and became the Pueblo people (Hopi and Zuni) discovered by the Spanish. Drought and competition over water forced them to live in remote, difficult to access areas. The homes here were in the cliff protecting the water source on the valley floor.
The day that Tom and I went to Bandelier, it was packed with people. One of the rangers told us it was always like this during the Balloon Fiesta. Lucky us! Another thing that makes Bandelier different is we had to ride a bus to get there. Most people park in White Rock and ride the bus the 17 miles up the mountain to Bandelier. Because we were going to Valles Caldera from Bandelier, we were allowed to drive to the campground and take the shuttle bus from there. The shuttle bus operates May 17 to October 17 and you cannot enter the park unless you ride the bus or walk in.
Fortunately the bus runs every 20 minutes, so waiting was not a hardship. We checked out the Visitors Center, watched the movie (if you’ve seen one Ancestral Puebloan movie, you’ve seen them all). I stamped my book and we looked at the museum.
After walking through the Visitors Center, we examined a small garden with representative native plants. We really liked this idea, because we are always answering questions about “what plant is that?” Having a garden shows what the native plants look like in every season.
Finally we hiked the Main Loop Trail, like every other visitor to Bandelier. This trail is about 1.5 miles and takes you by the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi (a great house), and through the cliff dwellings. Because there were so many people, there were long lines to climb the ladders and lots of people taking selfish selfies at the entrances to the caves. Tom and I decided to skip the lines so we didn’t go inside any of the caves.
After fighting our way through all the people and photo-bombing several pictures, we finished out the trail by walking the more secluded section along Frijoles Creek. We love to visit the National Parks, but we aren’t fond of crowds no matter how spectacular the draw. If we go back we will hike some of the 70 miles of backcountry trails.