—A Bandelier National
Monument Day Trip
in Covid-19 Times
When the Swiss born archeologist, Adolf Bandelier, came to New Mexico in the later part of the 19th century, he opened the pathway to one of New Mexico’s most popular historical sites now known as Bandelier National Monument.
Nestled in the Frijoles Canyon within the Jemez Mountains, about an hour’s ride northwest of Santa Fe, this historical site likely housed and fed humans 11,000 years ago. But about 2,000 years ago, the Ancestral Pueblo People (earlier identified as Anasazi) took up a more permanent residence in the canyon and the volcanic tuff cliffs.
The ruins of the circular village at the canyon’s floor, Tyuonyi, is fascinating to observe. While the once village is now covered in grasses and other plants, the significance of the area is disguised as just another abandoned high desert encampment of ancient people. So, be absolutely sure to procure a printed guide, available at the Visitor Center, that explains by numbered posts what is before you as you wander the path through the village.
For about 400 years, these villagers farmed corn, squash and beans. They harvested native plants and animals. Agricultural success was dependent upon winter snows and summer rains. I’ve read that the villagers lived with the Southwest’s erratic climate by including food storage rooms within the village. True?
Covid-19 has closed Bandelier’s beautiful and informative Visitor Center and other facilities for now. However, a ranger is available at the building’s entrance to answer questions and provide printed information about your visit to the national monument.
The canyon floor path is paved and handicapped accessible. The path to the cliffside caves—not so much. Obviously, there are stairs to climb to reach the caves. The crawl upwards is worth it. A few caves have ladders that allow visitors to get an intimate view of cave-life.
Consider the area’s elevation (The park’s elevations range from about 5,000 feet [1,500 m] at the Rio Grande to over 10,200 feet [3,100 m] at the summit of Cerro Grande), and the time of year of your visit. Summers can be quite warm with an intense sun overhead, monsoon rains can sweep through unexpectedly, and winter can cover the area with snow and ice. I recommend good shoes for exploration, sunscreen, hat, layered attire, and plenty of water.
Camping and Lodging. Covid-19 strikes again. “Ponderosa Group Campground and group sites in Juniper Campground remain closed due to Covid-19.” Other accommodations can be found in nearby Los Alamos and White Rock. And there are campsites throughout the Jemez Mountains — none of which I’ve sampled.
So, for our recent visit, we packed a hearty lunch and found a picnic table beneath the lofty and shady trees that line the riparian zone along Frijoles Creek. We savored the plant life around us, watched for unique birds, and imagined what life was really like for the Ancestral Puebloans for 400 years occupying Tyuonyi village and cliff dwellings.