After our hike in Great Sand Dunes National Park, we did a scenic drive through Chama, New Mexico enroute to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, we gave two Continental Divide Trail (CDT) thru-hikers a lift to their resupply point in Chama and stopped for lunch in Taos. The last time we were in Taos was when we came out (years ago) to climb New Mexico’s highpoint – Wheeler Peak. At that time a major utility outage reduced our meal choices to cold burritos and warm G&Ts, but we endured. Arriving in Santa Fe, it was a bit of a shock to see how much the city had sprawled-out over the years from the still walkable and interesting old town area around the Plaza to wide, treesless avenues lined with strip malls. Sadly, Oregon’s idea of urban growth boundaries doesn’t seem to have caught on here. Sigh. But we were here to hike, not comment of urban planning, so after some map pondering, we decided to visit Bandelier National Monument, just northwest of Santa Fe.
On our arrival at the White Rock Visitor Center, we found that you now have to take a shuttle bus to the Monument between 9:00AM and 3:00PM. But, being early as usual, it was allowable for us to drive ourselves into the Monument. Our original plan was to do an 11-mile out-and-back hike from the visitor center to the ruins of Yapashi, starting with a climb out of the Cañon de los Frijoles on the vigorously switch-backed Frijolito Trail.
As we climbed higher, we got an increasingly good view of the cliff dwellings on the opposite canyon wall,
and a unique aerial view of the ruins of Tyuonyi, with its central kiva (the separate Big Kiva is out of view to the right).
It was at this point that we be began to think that visiting these ruins might be more interesting than our planned hike, but we kept on up to the rim, from where we had some expansive views on this cloudless day.
We paused on the rim to reconsider our original plan. A closer look at the map, and an on-the-spot appreciation of the terrain, suggested that our original plan to visit Yapashi was a tad too ambitious. So we decided instead to continue on the Frijoles Rim Trail to Upper Crossing and return from there via the Frijoles Canyon Trail. This plan lasted only until we got to the junction with the Long Trail coming up from the canyon floor, at which point we opted to visit the really cool cliff dwellings instead of marching through the high desert [later we would learn that the Frijoles Canyon Trail had been turned by flash floods into a difficult and challenging (read no fun) journey]. So we took the Long Trail down,
and then the still intact section of the Frijoles Canyon Trail through lush riparian vegetation,
and magnificent stands of pines toward Alcove House, a kiva perched on a cliff at the end of the maintained trail.
Alcove House sits 140-feet above the canyon floor and is reached via four wooden ladders – much fun!
The alcove is a natural formation, with a commanding view out over the canyon,
into which the original inhabitants had built a kiva. One has to be impressed by the people who could dig deeply into this volcanic rock, and then haul rocks and adobe up 140-feet to build the above-ground kiva structure.
It was also apparent that the LovedOne was more “right sized” with respect to the original inhabitants than I was – my forehead having accumulated some bumps to prove it.
Having gotten up to Alcove House, it was now time to climb back down – something that might be more unnerving for some people than the climb up.
From Alcove House, we walked back along the canyon bottom to the paved Main Loop Trail that runs along the cliff dwellings.
The Park Service has reconstructed one of the talus houses on the sunny side of the canyon, showing how rocks, wooden beams, and the cliff wall converged to form houses.
This helped explain that the round holes peppering the canyon walls are where the roof beams were anchored, allowing for one-, two-, and three-story high dwellings.
The original inhabitants also made use of natural declivities in the volcanic rock and even plastered some of these with adobe to make for smoother, more comfortable enclosures.
There was one more ladder to climb,
into a living space crafted out of the native rock – likely cool in summer and warm in winter. But one not right-sized even for the LovedOne.
From the Main Loop Trail, you can get a somewhat overhead view of the ruins of Tyuonyi, but not as good as the one we got from high on the Frijolito Trail.
By now the shuttle buses were running and numerous visitors were arriving, so we retreated to eat a sandwich at the snack shop and do some requisite tourist trinketing at the gift shop before heading on to the history museum in Los Analmos. In the end, abandoning our doomed hike plans in favor of visiting these ruins – and gaining some small appreciation for what life was like here in the 1200s – was totally the right decision.