Bandelier National Monument
There are some places that stand above the rest. They have this special magnetic pull that keeps you coming back again and again. Bandelier National Monument is one of those unexpected delights, containing some of the most unusual and fascinating ancient ruins and cliff dwellings in the Southwest.
Bandelier National Monument is located in the Frijoles Canyon near Los Alamos, New Mexico. It is a narrow, wooded canyon with the Rito de los Frijoles “ Bean Creek” running nearly year-round through the floor of the canyon and home to the most amazing ancient pueblo ruins, cliff dwellings built against the volcanic canyon walls, rock paintings and petroglyphs.
Bandelier is located along Highway 4 in New Mexico. It can be reached by either coming from the west – traveling through Jemez Springs and the beautiful, wooded countryside of the Valles Caldera National Preserve or from the east via Espanola or Santa Fe.
It is important to know that from May 16 through October 16 visitors are required to take a shuttle bus from the White Rock visitor center to access Bandelier National Monument between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM. Shuttles run approximately every 30 minutes weekdays, and 20 minutes weekends. The shuttle bus is free; however a park entrance fee is required for Bandelier and can be purchased from the White Rock Visitor Center, or paid at the park visitor center upon arrival.
Since we were camping at the Juniper Campgrounds, we were able to skip the shuttle service in White Rock and make our way directly to our campsite. The road to the park is a motorcyclist’s dream, with curves and panoramic views galore.
Located on the plateau, the 66-site Juniper Campground can accommodate both tents and RVs. After going through the park entrance station, the campground consists of 3 loops with sites on a first come first serve status. The cost is $12. Payment can be made by credit card at the self-service kiosk located at the entrance to the campground or if paying in cash, must be made at the park visitor center.
1.There is a restroom with running water (no showers) located in each loop
2.Each site has a picnic table and grill
3.Bear boxes are available in each loop and use is highly encouraged
4.There are no electrical hook-ups
5.There is a dump station available
From the campsite there are two ways to gain access to the ruins. A shuttle bus runs every 30 minutes with pickups and drops offs located just outside the campground loops. Or, for those who like more adventure, the Frey trail is a 1.5 mile descent with amazing views of the canyon along with the Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins. The Frey trail connects right onto the Main Loop Trail.
Main Loop Trail
The Main Loop Trail is a 1.2 mile predominantly paved trail that will take you to the Tyuonyi (Que-weh-nee) pueblo, which is a circular pueblo site that once stood up to three stories tall. After that you can explore the Long House, which are cliff dwellings built along and supported by the walls of the canyon.
After this loop, there is an additional .5 mile trail that leads to the Alcove House. This nature trail traverses along the creek, is heavily treed and offers an oasis-like atmosphere that’s soul refreshing after the sun scorched rocks of the Main Loop trail. The Alcove House is located 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon and the climb isn’t for the faint of heart. After traversing four wooden ladders of various lengths and stone stairs, you reach a reconstructed kiva at the top with spectacular views of the canyon below.
Hot Tip – We hiked down the Frey trail into the Frijole Canyon, walked both the Main Trail loop and the Alcove House trail, then made our way back to the visitor center and hopped onto a shuttle bus which took us right back to our campsite.
Extra Hot Tip – The best time of year to visit the ruins is in the fall. The crowds are gone, the heat has dispersed and the colors are changing. At times you literally feel as though you have the whole place to yourself.