Bandelier National Park National Monument
Bandelier National Monument protects an area with human history going back 11,000 years. There have been clovis points found in Bandelier that go back to this era. More recently, going back to 1150-1500 A.D., the Puebloan people called it home, building their homes out of carved volcanic blocks at the foot of cliffs. When their community expanded, people carved their dwellings into surrounding volcanic tuff cliffs, called cavates. Today, you can walk into the ruins of these dwellings and climb into the the volcanic cliff dwellings via ladders supplied by the Park Service to see with your own eyes the darkened spots made over a warming fire from the residents of a few hundred years ago. The volcanic tuff here was also readily supplied by eruptions from the nearby supervolcano, Valles Caldera, over 1 million years ago.
Climbing into a cliff cave dwelling in Bandelier NM, NM
Bandelier has two main areas: the Main loop and Tsankawi Trail. The Main Loop is a 1.2 mile loop that is paved with side trips into cave dwellings. Side trips require a short ladder climb to look inside the cave dwelling but you can easily skip this if needed and still complete the loop. This short hike also includes an excavated area of an ancient pueblo roundhouse and a kiva. (A kiva is a circular chamber, usually partially underground, used for ceremonies by the Pueblo people). It is always interesting to see how people of different cultures live. This hike has amazing views of petroglyphs and amazing hoodoo like rock structures made of volcanic tuff. Along this trail, there is also a side trip to see a house high in the alcoves. Alcove House Trail, requires 140ft of climbing tall ladders and not recommended for those with fear of heights, dizziness or low physical fitness. Having said that, I did do this climb, since all my boys wanted to go and I thought they needed more than one adult supervision when at the edge of cliffs. As you may know, I have a fear of heights, and it took everything I had to get myself up, then down those ladders. I think it helped that I was distracted by my concern for my boys' safety. The adrenaline from that climb alone energized me for the rest of the day. There are nice views along the way.
The View from a Cave Dwelling over the RoundHouse, Bandelier NM, NM
A little ways down the road (12 miles), there is another trail called the Tsankawi Trail. Tsankawi Trail takes you from the cornfields in the valley below to a mesa-top roundhouse which lay unexcavated according to the wishes of the descendents of past inhabitants. If you look closely here, you will find broken pottery from that era and the remains of the roundhouse encircling you.
On an Footpath Carved into the Volcanic Tuff from Repeated Use 500-900 years ago on Tsankawi Trail, Bandelier NM, NM
Pottery Found at the end of Tsankawi Trail, where an Unexcavated RoundHouse still lays, Bandelier NM, NM
The second part of this trail takes you on narrow ancient foot paths carved into the white volcanic tuff that makes up the cliff. As you enjoy these amazing views, try to picture those Native Americans making this daily commute from the fields below on these very paths over 800 years ago. Pretty cool, huh? Along these ancient footpaths are petroglyphs and alcoves dug into volcanic tuff used for dwelling. Bring water, wear hats and sunscreen as there is neither shade nor water in these parts.
A Cave Dwelling along an Ancient Footpath on Tsankawi Trail, Bandelier NM, NM
Stop by the Visitor Center to get a map and directions to the Tsankawi Trail as there was no signage along the road. There is a short ladder climb at the very beginning of the hike. It can be a loop trail but requires being able to climb woladders. One ladder is 12 feet tall, the other slightly shorter. If you can't climb the tall ladder, you can still do the trail, you'll just have to go back the same way you came, but you will have to climb the short ladder at the beginning.
|Features:||Explore the ruins of roundhouses and cliff dwellings carved into volcanic tuff by its inhabitants of 500-900 years ago. Walk on a footpath carved into volcanic tuff by inhabitants of a mesa-top community on their daily commute to work.|
|Our Hike:||Main Loop: 1.2 mile loop, fairly flat walk, except for optional explorations of cave dwellings which require climbing a ladder Alcove House: About 140 feet of climbing above the valley floor spread over 4 ladders, At top, narrow, sand-covered slippery rock. Tsankawi: Under 2 miles, unshaded, on white rock which reflects sun, so it was a hot hike. No water on trail. Requires at least 1 fairly short ladder climb, For loop, requires 2 ladder climbs|
|Fee:||$25 per private vehicle for 7 days or Free with Annual National Parks Pass|
|Other:||Check website for hours, directions and shuttle requirements.|
|Website:||Bandelier National Monument|