|A snow-powdered yucca|
Forget about Manhattan or Chicago: A thousand years ago, this was what passed for an urban center in North America. Today, the desert has reclaimed the New Mexico landscape, which looks as dry and harsh as any in the Southwest.
But look a little closer and you'll see the stuff of life: water in the canyons, irrigable land, and shelter in the high cliffs. Bandelier National Monument, like its better known cousins, Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon,contain the remnants of multifamily Anasazi pueblos, built in theninth century and occupied until the thirteenth, when they were mysteriously abandoned.
Today, the same winds whistle and whisper through walls made of stone, and petroglyphs tell indecipherable stories in a forgotten language. Thousand-year-old trails lead you along the cliffs, following footprints that have become footpaths by the virtue of centuries of footsteps wearing their way into the soft volcanic rock. High above, the homes are remarkably intact. But the only inhabitants are the desert fauna.
Frontcountry hiking paths take visitors to the Monument's main historic attractions, but Bandelier offers remarkable rewards to the backcountry hiker. More than two-thirds of the park's 33,000 acres are managed as wilderness, and 70 miles of backcountry trails take hikers past unexcavated ruins, into plunging canyons, and atop expansive mesas that give sweeping views of this high desert landscape.
Snowbird stats: Facts up front: This is the coldest of our destinations, and if you go to the higher elevations, you will encounter the white stuff. This is high desert, with elevations ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. That means that winter temperatures are cool and sometimes cold. Winter storms (yes, with snow) occasionally roll through here, and while the accumulations don't tend to be large at the lower elevations, up high there can be enough for cross-country skiing. Expect daytime temperatures in the high 30s and 40s and nighttime temperatures well below freezing. If you're a tried-and-true hater of all things cold, you might want to avoid January.
Information: Bandelier National Monument, HCR 1, Box 1, Suite 15, Los Alamos, NM 87544, (505) 672-3861. Maps: Trails Illustrated Bandelier #209, $8.99. Guidebook: A Guide to Bandelier National Monument, by Dorothy Hoard, $8.95. Both available through Adventurous Traveler Bookstore(1-800-282-3963). Note that many trails were closed in 1997 due to forest fire and flooding damage. Call ahead for current trail status.
Getting there: Bandelier is located 12 miles from White Rock in northern New Mexico, about one hour from Santa Fe. From 1-25, take the St. Francis exit to 84/285 and follow the signs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication