Bandalier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico isn’t officially a National Park, but the National Park Service manages it. The area features 33,750 acres of dramatic cliffs and walled canyons, and is the home of ancestral Pueblo people. A visitor’s center has recently been rehabilitated and updated with a high definition new movie: This Place Knows Us.
Start with the movie, then proceed through the interpretive exhibits of the ancient Pueblo culture. Of course, there’s a gift shop, too.
Leave plenty of time to get out on the 70 miles of trails. The closest archeological site is just 400 yards from the center and can be reached by the paved 1.2 mile Main Loop trail. The ruins of the Tyuonyi, a circular village of about 600 rooms, and the nearby cliff dwellings make an hour round trip. These are communities dating back over 900 years.
Not having traveled much in the Southwest, I was thrilled with the opportunity to climb the ladders into hollowed out cave dwellings. The views of sharp terra-cotta colored ledges glow majestically and the whole area pervades a spiritual sense. Look for a series of cave rooms called the long house, a reconstructed talus house, an adobe construction built on the slopes or talus, and some petroglyths.
Believe it or not, only one other person from my group wanted to venture another mile further off trail to Alcove House. That’s likely because we’d need to push ourselves to make it there and back on time. But, it just so happened that the other person was famous travel photographer, Peter Guttman. If for no other reason that to watch Peter at work, I was going, huffing and puffing aside!
So Peter and I hiked as fast as we could and then climbed 140 feet straight up a series of ladders to reach the Ceremonial Cave or Alcove House. I found it exhilarating since I didn’t have time to worry over the scary drop below. Warning: these ladders are very steep and would not be safe for younger children. And this park has an elevation around 7,000 feet which makes breathing somewhat difficult for a sea level Floridian.
Ah…the reward. At the top Peter and I found a round reconstructed kiva (underground pueblo dwelling for ceremonies) overlooking a view that stretched seemingly forever. I didn’t descend down the kiva rather choosing to sit and meditate, soaking up the sacred vibes. (That and catch my breath.) Up there my imagination could easily hear the beat of a drum and envision ancients performing a ritual to the gods. If you go to Bandelier, by all means, make the effort to climb to Alcove House.
Hustling back down, Peter and I ran into Tom Wilmer, who was interviewing a Park Ranger along a trail for his NPR radio show. We also ran into a tarantula, although I was hoping for an American pika, a small rodent related to a rabbit. No luck.
Bandalier National Monument stays open year round but offers no lodging within the park. Reservations are required for the limited campgrounds. The National Park Service Junior Ranger Program awards patches to children completing a booklets about the site.
May I also recommend photographer Peter Guttman’s collection of images spanning three decades, all seven continents and 160 countries. These amazing photos are available on Beautiful Planet — a groundbreaking app that captures the beauty of our world and its cultures. If I had a Mac or i-Pos I’d own it.
Check it out at: Beautiful Planet