I have been to many of the ancient sites of the Southwest but the unique way the Ancestral Puebloans lived here at Bandelier National Monument, makes this place one of my very favorites! The people here were living in not just cliff dwellings but also cave dwellings and they combined their building style with the existing canyon wall in a very ingenious way.
Bandelier National Monument is located about an hour outside of Santa Fe. Take Saint Francis Drive north toward Los Alamos. Mid-May through Mid-October visitors are required to take a shuttle bus from the White Rock visitor center to access the main visited area of Bandelier National Monument. Trust me all this hassle is worth it! I found Bandelier to be very peaceful and uncrowded. The main loop trail is paved and takes about an hour and a half to wander through.
Here in the Frijoles Canyon the Ancestral Puebloans built in homes in the valley floor made of blocks of volcanic tuff. Human presence in the area has been dated to over 10,000 years ago. The Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE. They Lived along an ancient trade root that spans through this area and goes further south into Mexico.
These cliffs are part of the Jemez Volcanic field, and the bubbly nature of the cooling lava is readily apparent with thousands of one- or two-person sized holes and crevices lining the stone walls. The ancient builders took advantage of these holes and used the existing canyon wall to support the structures they built using tuff bricks. You can see how many stories tall they were by looking at the rows of vigas holes.Ponderosa pine trees made excellent vigas, these beams supported the roof. In well-known Long House, ceiling-beam fragments recovered from various rooms have been dated between 1383 and 1466.
Cavates were carved using stone tools, the walls of the cavates were often plastered and the ceilings smoked to make them less crumbly. The interior walls were often decorated with painted or carved petroglyphs.
The way the Ancient People used the existing shape of the canyon wall and built and carved there home into the stone, is so fascinating to me. This is one of the rare sites that you can still climb into the ruins and get a real feel of what it must have been like to live here.
Part way through the Main Loop Trail you can continue another mile round trip to Alcove House. The trail follows a river wash and is an easy hike….. However in order to reach Alcove House you will need to climb 4 long wooden ladders and some stone stairs. Located 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon and formerly known as Ceremonial Cave this place is amazing!
These ladders are closed in winter if there is snow and Ice so you might want to check at the visitor center. Otherwise just don’t look down and keep on climbing!! The view from the top is totally worth it!!
Once the home to approximately 25 Ancestral Puebloan people, you can see the cavates of former homes. Kivas are still used for spiritual ceremonies today; this kiva has been reconstructed and really gives you the feeling of just how sacred this place is. It’s hard to imaging climbing up and down these ladders every day, for ceremony or for the tasks of daily living. I’m left with a sense of amazement when I think about the people who lived here.