Bandelier National Monument lies just an hour or so northwestish of Santa Fe and is huge open country of mountains and mesas scattered with archeological ruins, cave dwellings, and petroglyphs. So pretty much my idea of heaven. I knew I couldn’t do justice to the more than 70 miles of hiking trails in the monument, but decided to at least go do the main day hike that would occupy a few hours.
The monument is named for Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-born scholar who came to the southwest at 40 to fulfill his dream of studying the native peoples of the area. He learned many of the local native languages and in 1880 was the first person to report on the peoples of the Frijoles Canyon, where the monument that bears his name is located.
By the time I arrived around 11:00, the place was packed. A ranger guided me into an overflow parking spot I was certain I could not get out of and then told me to go into the visitors’ centre to register my annual pass, then come back and hang my pass from my rearview mirror. Without a pass, access is $12 per carload, good for a week. If you want a trail guide for the two day hikes, they are $1 and $1.50 each. Please don’t be cheap and not get them, otherwise you won’t get much out of the hikes. After two Japanese tourists kept asking me, “What’s that?” I gently told them that they needed to go back for a guide, they did, and they thanked me for it.
The hike I did today is called the ‘Main Loop Trail’, with the addition of the Alcove House spur. The literature say that this should fill about two hours and it took me closer to three because I read everything and went up every ladder. Every ladder? Read on. Those with a fear of heights may wish to stop here. 😀
You start the hike on the floor of the valley and then climb up to the cliff dwellings.
In bad weather, you have to turn back at the end of the cliff dwellings and go back the way you came. In good weather, you can walk back down to the valley and do a loop back to the vistors’ centre. You have to cross the river several times if you end up doing the Alcove House Spur.
I eventually came to the point where I had to make an important decision.
The spur is through forest. There are so many ecosystems in this small section of the monument.
In case the signage hasn’t been clear, it’s four ladders, a few staircases, and 140ft straight up a cliff to check out Alcove House…
I had to wait at the second ladder for a terrified man to come down. It took ages. Everyone at the bottom told him great job, way to go, you should be so proud of yourself, etc., but he just looked down in shame, focusing on the fact that he was afraid, not that he had conquered his fear. 🙁
This ladder’s challenge was that it’s slightly tilted, so you feel like you might slide off.
I should have taken a short break before doing that third ladder, the longest of the four, as my legs got shaky midway, but I pushed on. I wasn’t afraid, just tired.
The ladders were all anchored, so they felt safe. The super long one felt interminable to climb down, but the others were fine. It would have been easier if the rungs had been a bit closer together. I wasn’t even apprehensive. How far I’ve come!
My knee had had just about enough abuse by the time I got to back down, but the climb up was so worth it! And it was such fun. I love trails like these!
It was then time to head back to my truck.
Thankfully, the car next to me was gone when I was ready to pull out, so I had only had to do a little manoeuvring to get out. It was a rare case where I would have been better off to nose into a spot and back out of it, but it all worked out in the end.
My taste of Bandelier National Monument was delightful, but not quite enough. I’d love to come back and do a full day hike next year!