The Bandelier National Monument is situated near Los Alamos, New Mexico, and was created in 1916 to preserve the archeological and anthropological resources in the region as well as the geologically unique canyons, mesas, plateaus, and their associated ecosystems.
This national monument covers over 33000 acres of rugged terrain. Geological formations in the area were formed by the ash flow of a volcanic eruption 1-2 million years ago that has since been eroded by wind, water, and weather to form the system of canyons and mesas in the area that provides the Bandelier National Monument with spectacular scenic beauty. Mountains soaring in the background include the 10200 foot peak of Cerro Grande.
What makes the Bandelier National Monument truly unique and special are the archeological sites located here. The region is the location of early settlements of the ancestors of the Puebloan people dating back 11000 years. Many of the artifacts and sites date back to the period between 1150 and 1600, after which the Pueblo people relocated to the Rio Grande areas. Sites at Bandelier National Monument include petroglyphs, which are pictures carved into the soft rock of the canyon walls, rock paintings, and the remnants of Pueblo structures, homes, and settlements.
Most of the sightseeing and historical activities at Bandelier are concentrated in a section of Frijoles Canyon where the main Pueblo peoples archeological sites can be found. There are trails in the area that lead to other ancient sites, and provide access to more canyons, plateaus, and mountain terrain. Plenty of wildlife in the area can be spotted by visitors and hikers, so keep an eye out for the local inhabitants while visiting the park.
Bandelier National Monument can be reached using Highway 4 from the west, travelling through the Santa Fe National Forest, or from the north and east from the Rio Grande Valley and Los Alamos. Los Alamos is a sizable town with many services and amenities including a movie theatre, ice rink, museums, YMCA and swimming pool, and a local ski hill.
From Los Alamos take Highway 501, turn left onto New Mexico Highway 4 and follow the signs to Bandelier National Monument.
From Santa Fe take Highway 84 north to Pojoaque and merge right to access New Mexico Highway 501 to Los Alamos. Cotinine on Route 502 to New Mexico Highway 4 and continue for 12 miles past White Rock to the Bandelier entrance on the left.
At the entrance to the monument, an access road forks off to the south to take you to the visitor centre. The visitor center parking lot is not large and parking can be an issue. During the peak season, if you arrive before 9 AM you can park in the parking lot, but if you arrive later you will need to park in the larger parking lot at the canyon rim and take a shuttle to the visitor centre.
During winter snowfall events, local highways and access roads at this high altitude can result in poor road conditions so use caution.
Available by reservation, the 2 unserviced group camping sites at the Ponderosa Campground are located 6 miles from the main entrance to the park, a short drive to the visitor center. During the peak months, the trails and canyon are accessible by shuttle bus, and during off peak season you can bring private vehicles to the main section of Bandelier National Monument from this campsite. The campground is open all year around, however, water is only available from mid-May to mid-October. Amenities include pit toilets, BBQs, picnic shelter and tables, food storage lockers, and campfire rings. The sites are tent only, however one RV per site can be accommodated in the parking lot area. Each group camping site accommodates between 10 and 50 people. There is one hiking trail directly accessible from this campground, the Ponderosa Trail which descends through the Ponderosa Pine forest and Frijoles Canyon for 8 miles to the Visitor Centre and Main Loop Trail.
Juniper Campground is located near the visitor centre and Main Trail Loop which are accessible by shuttle bus during the peak season, and by private vehicles during the off peak season. Situated on a high plateau, with lots of room and great views of the surrounding scenery, the campground provides 66 unserviced sites that are appropriate for tents and RVs.
Each campsite includes a grill and picnic table. Other amenities include flush toilets, drinking water during the peak season, dump station, campfire rings, and firewood. There is also an amphitheater and a trail head from the campground that connects to other areas of Bandelier National Monument.
Camping is first come, first served, and this campsite is very busy during the peak season and on weekends or holidays, so come early to secure a site. Pets must be kept on a leash and campers are required to clean up after their pets and pack out any garbage from their campsite.
Over 70 miles of hiking trails in the Bandelier National Monument provide trekking opportunities for those requiring easy paths near historical sites. Or, for the more adventurous who want to explore the area, more difficult trails provide access to backcountry wilderness and remote sites. During the fall, temperatures are cooler for some of the strenuous hikes in this steeply terrained area.
Many of the trails take hikers past ancestral Pueblo people's villages and petroglyphs, and past interesting geological formations in the region. You can take short hikes, all day hikes, or even overnight multi-day backpacking trips into the Bandelier Wilderness.
Hikers should watch out for rattlesnakes on the trails, and black bear and mountain lions, which, although elusive, can be dangerous if encountered at close quarters. Pets are not permitted on the Bandelier National Monument trails, however, nearly Department of Energy and Forest Service lands have trails where dogs are permitted.
Special scenery, ancient archaeological sites, wildlife, and geological formations create unique subjects for photographers who want to capture the interest and beauty of Bandelier National Monument. The mountains in the background make a spectacular backdrop for photo “ops” and the view from high plateaus over the canyons are ideal for photo buffs. For some close ups, try different angles of the Pueblo petroglyphs and rock paintings, or take pictures of the settlements and historical sites in varying lights for a unique effect. Keep your camera ready in case local critters come into view so you can capture the moment.
When the snowpack allows it, cross country skiing is a popular pastime on the Upper Frijoles area, off of Highway 4 near Dome Road. Opportunities to ski are dependent on the season's snowfall and the cross country ski season usually lasts from mid-November to mid-March.
The four trails open to cross country skiers in winter are the Cerro Grande Trail, Alamo Boundary Trail, and the two Upper Frijoles loops. Hikers and snowshoers also frequent these trails in the winter, and are asked to stay off the cross country ski tracks so as not to compromise the tracks for skiers.
The Bandelier National Monument has many Mule deer and Abert squirrels, that are commonly seen in the main visitor area of Frijoles Canyon. Many species of bats that inhabit local caves can also be soon on the local trail loops.
Backcountry hikers may run into black bear and mountain lions that make the more remote wilderness regions their home, although these are much more rare. During the winter a herd of elk come down to the park when snowfall in the nearby Jemez mountains forces them down to more hospitable country.
Birdwatchers can see wild turkeys, vultures, ravens, hummingbirds and birds of prey in the region. Horny toads, rattlesnakes and tarantulas are also encountered along the trail in summer months.
Watch where you step to avoid rattlers, and in the backcountry be aware of your surroundings and keep a look out for large predators.
The Bandelier National Monument has not only an interesting history from a human settlement perspective, but also from a geological history perspective as well. The area was once covered with volcanic ash from an eruption in the Valles Caldera over 1 million years ago, and subsequent water and wind carved deep canyons and left high mesa and plateaus in the area. Shale and sandstone from the Permian period and limestone from the Pennsylvanian age underlie the volcanic ash and contribute to the geological formations in the region. The three mile trail from the visitor center leads down the canyon to the Upper Falls and a guidebook explaining the unique local geology is available from the visitor center to interpret the local geographical features on this trail. Visitors can pick out the geological features along this and other park trails.
Investigate the culture and archaeological sites left behind by the ancestors of the local Pueblo people that date back 11000 years, with many sites dating between 1100 and 1500 AD. The visitor center at Bandelier National Monument has museum exhibits that include pottery, tools, and other artifacts used in the daily life of the Pueblo people, as well as two life size dioramas. You can also view contemporary Pueblo pottery and artworks. The main loop trail from the visitor centre is 1.2 mile in length and leads through excavated archaeological sites of ancient Pueblo settlements in Frijoles Canyon. A portion of the trail is handicap accessible. Rock paintings and petroglyphs are also visible in the area and further trails into the park will take you to more secluded and less visited Pueblo cultural and settlement sites.