Bandelier National Monument is an unexpected delight, with some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins in the Southwest, steep narrow canyons with plentiful wildlife, mountains rising to 10,000 feet, many acres of unspoilt backcountry and a colorful section of the Rio Grande valley. The monument is just a few minutes drive from the scientific research town of Los Alamos, and close to other popular destinations including Santa Fe, the Jemez Mountains and several historic pueblo settlements.
Access: The approach to Bandelier is along road NM 4 - either from the west, across the pretty, wooded country of the Santa Fe National Forest, or north and east from the Rio Grande valley via Los Alamos, a road which passes a number of secretive laboratories, well hidden in the thick forest and protected by high fences. A short side-road forks off, passing along a ridge with good views over the valley beneath, and then steeply down into Frijoles Canyon, ending at a visitor center with cramped parking facilities. Space is at a premium in this narrow valley, and in summer the parking is sometimes completely full and vehicles have to be turned away. A campsite is located on the plateau above where there is more room.
Bandelier Hotels: The nearest towns with hotels close to Bandelier National Monument are Espanola (26 miles), Los Alamos (12 miles) and Santa Fe (40 miles).
Lava: Frijoles Canyon has been created by Frijoles Creek, eroding through thick deposits of volcanic rock - mainly tuff, which is full of natural cavities - originally air pockets in ash deposits from volcanic eruptions several thousand years ago. These may be several meters in diameter, and were used by the Anasazi peoples between 700 and 450 years ago as the basis of their villages. Selected cavities were enlarged, linked together and augmented to form clusters of dwellings in many places over several miles of this rocky land southeast of the Jemez Mountains. The ash originated from volcanoes at the site of Valle Grande Peak, a few miles to the west. Various hot springs in the nearby forests still hint of continuing thermal activity. Together with some more conventional ruins along the canyon floor, many of these unusual dwellings are just a short walk away from the Monument visitor center, and a 2 mile loop path allows for easy viewing.
Trails: Besides lengthy backcountry trails that require a (free) permit, there are two main footpaths in Bandelier National Monument:
Other Sites: More ruins, many of them unexcavated, are scattered along adjacent canyons within the monument boundary, and there is a separate section 11 miles north along NM 4, near the junction with NM 502. This is the Tsankawi pueblo - a large dwelling on a plateau with good views over the Rio Grande and reached by a 1 mile trail. Besides Bandelier, there are various sites of ancient settlements in New Mexico - second in number only to those in neighboring Arizona. They include Chaco Culture - a remote location with many large well-preserved structures, Aztec Ruins near Farmington, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings, further south in the Mogollon Mountains.
- Falls Trail; downstream to the junction of Frijoles Creek with the Rio Grande, passing two dramatic waterfalls and much interesting scenery.
- Frijoles Canyon Trail (Main Loop); upstream to the cliff dwellings, a ruined pueblo and the Ceremonial Cave, complete with underground kiva.
Maps: PDF format maps of Bandelier National Monument from the National Park Service:
Overview area map (3 mb)
Visitor Center area map (900 kb)
||Ancient dwellings carved into volcanic cliffs, at the edge of a narrow, wooded canyon - a tributary of the Rio Grande, which may be reached by an easy trail that also passes two waterfalls
|Nearest city with hotels:
||Los Alamos, 12 miles
||All year; especially popular during summer