Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Greetings and salutations,

This week, I take you to the Bandelier National Monument located near Los Alamos, yes the place where they developed the atomic bomb during WWII and home to the the Los Alamos National Laboratory but more on that later. My visit to this National Monument came as I began to make my way back to Albuquerque after several days of photographing the area around Taos. So with a few hours of sunlight left on a pleasant, mild spring day, I made the turn down the road towards Bandelier. IMG_3674

First a little history and background. The Ancestral Pueblo peoples moved into the area that is now Bandelier National Monument in about 1150, finding the southern exposed porous rock walls suitable for shelter. They also were attracted to steady supply of water that continues to flow through Frijoles Canyon, the main attraction in the present day monument.Bandelier NM-3752

The Ancestral Pueblo were accomplished farmers raising maize, beans, squash, cotton, and other crops to sustain life in the semi-arid desert. They established irrigation to water these crops and selected seeds for their ability to mature in the short growing season at over 6000 feet. They built villages on the side of the canyons to supplement the cave dwellings. Some of the villages had up to 600 rooms. By the 1550’s most of the peoples had moved on, settling along the nearby Rio Grande River. This was followed quickly by the colonization by the Spanish, creating many changes to the way of life of the indigenous people of the Southwest.

Bandelier was designated a National Monument in 1916, one of many created after the passage of the American Antiquities Act of 1906. This Monument was named after a self taught anthropologist and historian, Adolph Bandelier. He came to New Mexico territory in 1880 to study the social organization, customs and movements of the southwestern and Mexican peoples. Soon after his arrival, a local guide led Bandelier into Frijoles Canyon who was impressed by the cliffs, the architecture, and the steady stream flowing through the canyon. His work in this area provided a foundation for modern southwestern archeology.

On my way into the park, I stopped at the overlook for a distant view of the monument. One doesn’t really get the majesty of the park until traveling into the canyon itself.Bandelier NM-3710

After finding a spot in the relatively small but crowded parking lot (many hikers), my visit to Bandelier started at the Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center and a chat with one of the friendly rangers who provided suggestions for a couple hour visit to the Monument. She offered me a returnable self guided tour book of the main dwellings that were accessible by way of an easy walk from the Visitor Center. After watching the well done 14 minute movie about the Monument, I headed out to view the dwellings. The first part of the path takes visitors along the Frijoles Creek that provided a steady supply of water to the cliff dwellers. It was cool among the recently leafed out cottonwood and aspen trees.Bandelier NM-8042

After leaving the coolness of the trees and stream, the afternoon sun warmed up the remainder of the trail making me thankful that I brought along some water! It also helped me to understand why the cliff dwellers found this place to be so habitable, the sun reflecting off the south facing cliffs provided warmth for growing crops and kept the inhabitants warm in the winter. Here’s my first glimpse of the Canyon.Bandelier NM-3715Bandelier NM-3712

The 1.2 mile path soon took me past the Tyuonyi, a excavated dwelling of about 400 rooms built around a central plaza. Bandelier NM-3720Bandelier NM-3717Bandelier NM-3714Bandelier NM-3726Bandelier NM-3740

As I made my way, the path became steeper as I got closer to the canyon wall and the Talus houses on the slopes of the canyon.Bandelier NM-3746Bandelier NM-3750Bandelier NM-8048

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Along the trail were modern stairways as depicted below.Bandelier NM-3744

Then there were the ways the Ancestral Pueblo’s accessed their rooms, by way of a wooden ladder! I even tried a few although laden with a backpack and two cameras with lenses!Bandelier NM-3743Bandelier NM-3727

Along the way, there a number of examples of the caves where the Pueblo’s lived. Bandelier NM-8060IMG_3669Bandelier NM-3732

There were also excellent examples of petroglyphs, those carvings in the soft rock. It was the art form of the day and provided clues to how the ancient peoples lived.Bandelier NM-8057

The scenery in the part of the Monument I saw was beautiful in the late afternoon sun. I had hoped to take a longer trail to the Alcove House, an ancient kiva (a religious site). However, it was getting late in the day and besides I found out from the rangers that it was currently closed due to some vandalism. IMG_3668Bandelier NM-8072Bandelier NM-8070Bandelier NM-8067Bandelier NM-8052Bandelier NM-8044

Walking back to the parking lot again took me past the visitor center, this scene caught my eye and reminded me that I learned that this was once a working ranch prior being designated a national monument.Bandelier NM-8071 IMG_3670

Upon departing the Monument, I decided to take the roundabout way to get to my destination for the evening. This route took me along the northwest boundary of the Monument towards the town of Los Alamos. Soon I came upon a security checkpoint where I had to show my identification and state why I was traveling on this road. After reminding me that no stopping or photography was allowed, I was sent on my way. Yes, I was driving through a section of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. While it was the center of the development of the atomic bomb during WWII, the Laboratory’s current mission is to research civilian uses of nuclear energy, fusion, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology, and computer science. It is one of the largest science and technology research centers in the world and is home to many world renown scientists. The town of Los Alamos has a population of over 12,000 people, most working at the Laboratory or for many of the companies supporting the National Laboratory. And this in the middle of the Santa Fe National Forest and San Miguel Mountains!

The sun was setting as I reached my resting place, another end to a fine day in the State of New Mexico.

Up next week, Taos, New Mexico – Potpourri, Final Thoughts, and Reflections.

Until then, travel safe.




2 thoughts on “Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico

  1. Nice piece about an area of New Mexico that I have not visited. Pretty cool cliffs, I can imagine it gets awful hot there in the summer. What would they do to you if you did take a picture? ZAP you with one of those TS laser beams? Really I think they over do the whole secret crap a bit there! Nice work.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I’m guessing it does get hot in the summer, the shade by the stream would be a good place to cool off.
      Not sure what they’d do if I took photos, maybe confiscate my gear.

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