Bandelier National Monument
Main Loop Trail
Bandelier National Monument (https://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm) is 48 miles northwest of Santa Fe. This was the home of the Ancestral Pueblo people and there are more than 3,000 sites in Bandelier. The greatest concentration of these are close to the visitors center and easily reached by short trails. The village of Tyuonyi, which shows cliff dwellings, is quickly reached by the Main Loop Trail which is 1.2 miles long The trail to Alcove House is off the Loop trail and adds another mile. Trail is level except at the end. To get to Alcove House, you have to climb many stairs and several ladders but it is well worth it. Tsankawi is located outside the main monument. There is a 1.5 loop trail where you can see a large unexcavated village, cave dwellings, petroglyphs and pieces of broken pottery. This is not a difficult trail although there are a couple ladders. There are some beautiful views. One of the most interesting things is where the ancient people wore paths, sometimes a couple feet deep, in the rock. Who would have thought that possible.
Geology: From Ash to Tuff to Homes
During the eruptions that formed the Valles Caldera, ash flows up to 1,000 feet thick covered the landscape from the caldera rim to the Rio Grande. As the hot ash cooled, it welded into a rock called tuff. Bandelier is located on this broad, sloping layer of tuff called the Pajarito Plateau. Tuff is very light and soft. Over time, wind and water gradually eroded away softer areas of tuff, creating holes in the exposed canyon faces. The Ancestral Pueblo people used these to their advantage. With hand tools, they enlarged and shaped cliff openings into useful shelters called cavates (CAVE-eights). They used tuff blocks to build apartment-like homes along the cliff faces in front of the cavates. The cliffs themselves are very beautiful and unusual as you will see from the photos.
Weather: Summer weather is hot and dry but they get snow in the winter, and as you will see in my photos of Alcove House, they get snow in the middle of May. The first day when I did the Loop Trail, the weather was warm and clear. When I returned the next day, it snowed on me for awhile before clearing a bit.