Bandelier National Monument Overview
When you look up the sheer-walled canyon that marks the entrance to Bandelier National Monument, you immediately know that this is a special place—carved hundreds of feet high on the rock walls are dramatic cliff dwellings. Standing as testament to an ancient civilization that once ruled a swath of the Southwest, these ruins are some of the most interesting and distinctive archaeological remnants to be found in North America.
Named for Adolph Bandelier, a 19th-century anthropologist, this national monument is a bewitching combination of archaeological, historic, and natural features. Established in 1916, Bandelier covers nearly 50 square miles of steep narrow canyons that flow from the 10,000-foot peaks of the Jemez Mountains to the Rio Grande River. Part of one of the world's largest volcanic calderas, it is home to wide variety of wildlife, including mountain lions, elk, black bear, and the protected Jemez Mountain Salamander. These critters roam among the acres of pristine backcountry. But it is the spectacular 13th-century Anasazi ruins that distinguish Bandelier as a unique experience.
Walk among the Ruins
Probably the most accessible feature of the monument, the ruins in Frijoles Canyon extend along the base of the canyon wall for some two miles. Along the paved Main Loop Trail you can explore Kivas, the Tyuonyi pueblo ruins, Cave Rooms, the Long House Ruin, petroglyphs, pictographs, and a ceremonial cave. But for the more adventurous there is the 1.5-mile Frijolito Ruin hike that allows one to explore the ruins and then take a strenuous hike up switch-backs to the rim of Frijoles Canyon and the unexcavated Frijolito Ruin. From here you can marvel over the ruins beneath and take in the breathtaking backcountry. For a 2.5-mile loop, continue north on the mesa-top trail and descend at the junction to the Juniper campground.
Wander among Waterfalls
While the ruins can take a good portion of any day visit, the park also offers easy access to natural wonders. You can take in the ruins and experience the open spaces of the canyon floor on the three-mile round-trip trail that crosses over the Frijoles Creek. This trail enters a thick forest leading to two beautiful waterfalls. A booklet at the Visitor Center describes the geology and native plants along the way. Another option is to bypass the ruins altogether and take in the natural gifts of the area with a five-mile hike down to the Rio Grande and then to an overlook of the falls. Either way, you are in for a treat.
Backpack the Backcountry
Bandelier contains a great number of remote treasures for anyone willing to step away from the ruins area. The monument boasts 23,267 acres of wilderness area for some great backpacking to hot springs and unexcavated ruins. Take one of the steep trails along the canyon walls or stay down in the canyon—either way the intrepid explorer will quickly find solitude among the towering Jemez Mountains and the colorful Rio Grande valley. Traversing between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, the 70 miles of Bandelier backcountry trails present a tremendously diverse wilderness experience with bountiful wildlife and flora ranging from cottonwood to yucca to ponderosa pine.
Visit the Home of the Atomic Bomb
For anyone interested in contrasting the mysteriously ancient and the secretive modern, all you have to do is drive a few miles through the mountain range and make a stop in at Los Alamos. Driving through the town one could easily mistake it for any of the smaller, newer villages gracing northern New Mexico. However, for the vigilant there are telltale signs that this place is different. Ominous signs warn against trespassing onto government property. Fences block access to strange buildings. And finally, a museum explains it all—you are in the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication