I know what you are thinking…where the heck is this place you speak of? No, I am actually not making it up…there is a place tucked into the cliffs near White Rock, New Mexico that is a little known diamond for history and that has a very high coolness factor!
The neatest fact about Bandelier National Monument that most people don’t know is that this monument holds the oldest National Park Service’s sites dating back to their discovery in 1916! Now why wouldn’t you be intrigued to visit this less well known gem knowing that! I actually first heard about this monument on social media when a friend posted pictures of this location and I was immediately star struck! I have a passion for Native American history/traditions and any place that holds ancestral Pueblo dwellings that the public is welcome to explore, I want my boys to visit! It was a no brainer then that I would add this stop to our vacation on the way up to Colorado and boy, I am so glad we did! Bandelier is located about 2 hours from Albuquerque and about 1 hour from Sante Fe in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Things you must know before you go include that you can only arrive in the park on a shuttle bus in an effort to reduce traffic inside the monument and to preserve the history that is present inside the Park Service’s gates. The shuttle runs from 9-3pm May – October but check the website to ensure that those times are valid when you plan to arrive. They do offer guided tours throughout the walkway, however, we only had a little over an hour to explore the location and we found the self guided tour very enjoyable all the same. They do offer the Junior Ranger Program so your littles can earn another NP badge while learning about the Ancient Pueblo people. Bandelier National Monument Frijoles Visitors Center is open 9-6pm May – October. Make sure to wear sunscreen and bring a water bottle!
Wanna know something else super cool about this National Monument that makes it very unique? For those that love the wilderness and hiking, it includes over 70 miles of trails that are just waiting to be explored. You can obtain a backcountry permit if you would like to primitive camp but if that isn’t your thing, then you can also stay at the Juniper Campground complete with 57 campsites (no hookups available but boondocking RV’s are allowed). Find out more information here about this great National Monument: https://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm
When you leave the visitors center, you will want to take the Main Loop Trail because it consists of 21 well marked self guided stations that you can stop and match to your visitors guide you can pick up in the center for your walk. You will about the ecosystem you are visiting, what type of dwelling you are looking at in that moment and also a little about the people at each stop using your visitors guide.
Here is a link to the map of the Main Loop for reference: https://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/upload/main-loop-map-jan-2016.pdf
Now are you even more interested to see why this was one of our favorite stops along our road trip? Check out these cool pictures of the dwellings! The boys loved it more because they are allowed to climb in them and walk around which many locations are just not stable enough to allow for that much human contact on the walls and floors! Here you can walk up and actually see the petroglyphs and all their beautiful detail. I have pictures of some of them below.
As we walked through each of the rooms, it was beautifully eerie as my mind kept imaging the conversations that took place there, the wisdom that was shared within those walls, the laughter and the tears. The park was pretty empty during our time there and so we had the rooms and sites mostly to ourselves which was great not having dozens of people rushing you through as you went in to explore.
As the boys explored each area, I could hear them talking together about what it would have been like having to climb up all those stairs after hiking to get water and what it was like living in the volcanic rock cliffs. That was very exciting for me to hear as I love when they get to do things hands on and really experience them rather than seeing the dwellings over a railing. They were actively thinking and processing what life must have been like for the ancient people that lived there because they were experiencing it all first hand.
There are many rooms you can go into along the paved walk way and are not challenging. Our favorite stop was at the Alcove House. There were 4 ladders we climbed and the beautiful stone stairs that took us 140 feet into the side of the ridge.
Our crew can not say enough positive things about this hidden gem nestled off of NM-4 West. If you and your family enjoy cliff dwellings and learning about those that were here before us, this is a must stop on your next New Mexico adventure!!
Happy trails and safe traveling…until next time!!
— Owl, Hi-Five and Eagle