Bandelier National Monument

Written by on June 3, 2015 in NM History & Heritage - Comments Off on Bandelier National Monument

Frijoles Creek begins on the snowy slopes of Cerro Grande Peak and carves its way down through the Pajarito Plateau for over fourteen miles before entering the winding Rio Grande, and drops about 4,000 feet. Tucked into a deep canyons cut by the creek are the pueblo dwellings of an ancient people built between 1150 AD to the early 1500s. The people chose this area because running water was readily available year around in a time when the southwest was experiencing harsh drought in other areas. While sites like Mesa Verde were being abandoned, the pueblo houses of Bandelier National Monument were growing and prospering.

The Pajarito Plateau was created a million years ago by volcanic activity. The soft, porous, volcanic rock is easily eroded by wind and water, leaving many natural cavities behind that the ancient people found suitable shelters. The volcanic rock fractures into convenient blocks, making terrific stackable building material that allowed these people to create huge pueblo dwellings. During their four centuries of habitation, the pueblo people built very large structures with as many as 400 hundred rooms. However, not all the people lived in these large “apartment” complexes, choosing instead single-family dwellings atop the mesas or tucked in sheltered canyon walls. So the 33,000 acres of Bandelier National Monument is littered with thousands of archeological sites of historic importance.
Lower Falls
This dramatic change in elevation on the Pajarito Plateau creates many different climates that support a wide diversity of life — from wetlands to grasslands, forests to savannahs. This diversity made the area livable for the Ancestral Pueblo people, providing them with food, medicine, clothing, and supplies. However, the people who settled here were also skilled farmers. They cultivated both the high mesa tops and the river valleys, although the steep canyons blocked sunlight and were cold sinks, so the bulks of the cultivation was on the sunny mesa tops. However, although water was readily available from Frijoles Creek, the people weren’t able to get that water to the tops of the mesas. Therefore, the developed some extremely clever ways to trap water from summer thunderstorms, including terracing and check dams. They also cultivated drought tolerant plants like corn, beans and squash, as well as native species like yucca. They used the pulp of the yucca for soap and shampoo, while the tough fibers were woven into sandals, baskets, blankets and rope. The soft fleshy fruits of the yucca could be eaten raw, cooked or mixed with other ingredients and the spring blossoms have a sweet taste.

By the middle of the 1500s, the sites of Bandelier National Monument were deserted — drought and over-used land were probably the reason for the migration. Oral traditions tell us where the people went and who their descendents are. The people of Cochiti Pueblo, located just south and east along the Rio Grande, are the most direct descendents of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon, while San Ildefonso is most closely linked to Tsankawi.

Today, you can almost hear the voices of the ancient past echo through the canyon as you walk the 1.2 mile Main Loop Trail. Ladders along the trail allow you to climb into cavates (small human-carved alcoves), and take you past pueblo dwellings and places of worship like Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. Within Bandelier’s 33,000 acres there are over 70 miles of trails, some are short easy loops while others cover miles and take you over steep rocky switchbacks. There are even two trails designated for cross-country skiing in the winter months.

Juniper and Ponderosa campgrounds are open year-around, while back-country camping is available with a permit. The nearby towns of Los Alamos and White Rock, New Mexico, offer numerous lodging, dining and shopping opportunities.

Other attractions in the area include:
Pecos National Historic Park
Petroglyph National Monument
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
Sandia Peak Tramway
Albuquerque Biological Park

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Road
Los Alamos, NM 87544
Phone: 505.672-3861 x 517

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