A visit to Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico was the base for our adventure. Approximately 107 miles to Bandelier National Monument and is located near Los Alamos, New Mexico.

During summer months, you will need to take a shuttle bus from the visitor’s center in the town of White Rock. However due to Covid-19, you are able to park at the parking lot in the main visitor area for Bandelier.

After parking, we went to the cafe and ordered an Indian Fry bread and a Green chilli Elk burger. I tried the Elk burger for the first time and it was flavorful, slightly sweet and not gamey at all. There are outdoor seatings amongst beautiful plants and hummingbirds.

( Eating Indian Fry bread and Elk burger at the Cafe next to visitor’s center)

Then we head to the visitor center to pick up a map. Visitor center are not open but the maps are laid out on the table outside and a park ranger are on site for any questions.

This monument has over 33000 acre to preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans who occupied this area from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The towering canyon walls contain numerous cave dwellings as well as petroglyphs and pictographs that date from this period. To access the cave dwellings, there are ladders to climb into them, including 70 miles of trails that are available at the park.

The park was named for Adolph Bandelier, a 19th-century anthropologist from Switzerland.

From 1150 CE to 1550 CE, the ancestral Pueblo people lived here by carving their homes into the volcanic rock. Although the Pueblos moved on to more fertile land along the Rio Grande River, evidence of their daily life still exists today. 

Like most visitors who took the Main Loop Trail, which is 1.2 miles/1.9 km long, we added an extra mile to go to the Alcove House. It loops through the main archeological areas of the park. This Main Loop trail is a moderate hike and takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

The trail starts at an information board just outside the back door of the Visitor Center.  The first 0.25 miles of this trail are paved and ADA-accessible. Numbered posts coincide with a trail guide costing $2 available for purchase at the Visitor Center.

( Big Kiva which is used for communal meeting and for religious ceremony)

From the Main Loop, you pass into the ruins of the large circular area that once had 400 rooms that was used for storing food. It is called the Big Kiva which is used for communal meeting and for religious ceremony.

After exploring the cliff-dwellings here, the trail heads back down into the main loop trail and to an area called Long House. At Long House the homes were built along the base of the cliff allowing them to be 3 to 4 stories tall. There are hundreds of petroglyphs and carved drawings.

( Some of these structures had several floors. It is a restored structure in front of the cliff to give an example of how the original structures might have looked )

From Long House, you can take the half mile back to the visitor’s center or continue on for another mile to Alcove House.

We also saw Plateau Striped Whiptail lizard and birds while hiking. The walk to Alcove House is along the river and through the forest, a beautiful change from the Main Loop trail.

To reach the Alcove House requires climbing up the 140’ of ladders ( approximately 12 stories high). I would not recommend if you have fear of heights. The first ladder takes you up a series of four wooden ladder, each getting progressively long as you make your way to the top.

( Climbing to Alcove House)

This is only about 3 mile of hiking at the most and about half of it is a paved trail.

Once you reach the top, you can see the curve of Frijoles Canyon and much of the park and what lies beyond it. This vantage point was once home to approximately 25 Ancestral Pueblo people.

Although we didn’t have time to hike other trails, here are a couple of hikes to consider:

The Falks Trail offers outstanding views of a waterfall. It’s only about 1.5 miles in length but involves some steep drop-offs. It begins at the end of the Backpacker’s Parking lot and descends 400 vertical feet towards the waterfall.

The Frijoles canyon trail is a very popular 8 mile one way hike from Ponderosa group campground to the Visitor Center. From Ponderosa campground the trail descends into the canyon bottom and turns left along the creek and canyon bottom towards the Visitor Center. Take the time to enjoy the incredible rock formations. Be prepared to get your feet wet as there are no bridges.

Along these 70 miles of trails, more ancient homes, waterfalls, caves and stunning views can be seen.

You are allowed to camp onsite at the Juniper and Ponderosa Camping fees for Juniper Campground are $12 per night and $35 per night for the Ponderosa group campsite.

The best time of year to visit Bandelier National Monument is spring, summer or fall.

We were so glad we visited this wonderful monument. Any thoughts? Please comment below. Like it? Please share.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.