This day at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico was early on in our travels throughout the U.S, and it is still one of our favorite experiences.
We learned that Bandelier National Monument was named for Adolph F. A. Bandelier, a self-taught Swiss anthropologist who studied Ancestral Pueblo cultures and spent several years in the area. He devoted much of his life to the cultural study of ancient southwestern peoples.
Still, to me, it seems the Monument should be named for the canyon or the ancient people that once lived here. After all they are the reasons Bandelier has historical significance.
Okay. Let's get on with the tour.
We drove in and found the visitors center - not too difficult as this 33,000-acre monument has only three miles of paved road. If you want to explore the 70 miles of trails beyond the ones around the visitors center, you better bring some backpacking gear.
Here is the visitors center nestled down in the Frijoles Canyon.
We entered the visitors center, and we were ignored at first which I always find a bit irritating. But eventually a young man helped us out and showed as a brief film on the park.
Most people that come to Bandelier take the mile and a quarter Main Loop Trail past the remnants of an ancient Pueblo and cliff dwellings. We were going to do that too, but I wanted to take the Falls Trail as well.
The fellow in the visitors center suggested we take the Falls Trail first as the end of it gets really hot later in the day. It is a 1 1/2 mile hike to the upper falls for a 3 mile round trip. Or, if we wanted to go all the way to the Rio Grande River it would be 2 1/2 miles or a 5 mile round trip.
We picked up self-guided tour booklets for both trails for $2.50 and headed out.
We were prepared today with plenty of water, snacks, hiking gear, and Linda's new best friends - her trekking poles. She says they are like hiking with hand rails the whole time. Several people asked her if they help and I think she sold three or four pairs.
We headed out on the Falls Trail. Between reading the little booklet and stopping for birds and wildlife, it was going to take us all day.
Here, is a Bushtit - there was a small flock foraging among the juniper trees. Though fairly common, this was another new "life bird" for us.
In addition to that bird, we also got a Lazuli Bunting, a Violet-green Swallow, and a Rock Wren as new lifers. And we got a good look at a beautiful Western Tanager. We were pretty sure we had seen one before, but we confirmed it today. Unfortunately, the photos of the other birds weren't good enough to post.
As we walked, the lizards were all over the place. Every one of them seemed to have a bug in its mouth.
The entire Falls Trail hike is along the Frijoles Creek all the way until it runs into the Rio Grande River. It is a permanent creek that flows all year, and it is what made this canyon so attractive for living.
This hike was a treat for the senses. I don't know if we have been on a hike with more wonderful smells from the blooming plants, the trees, and the wild sage.
Formations known as "tent rocks" lined both sides of the canyon.
This was our highest vista on the trail. We were looking down the canyon to the Rio Grande which is running along the mountain in the center.
We had a mixture of sun, clouds, and rain all day. So the lighting was a mixed bag for photos. I hoped for just the right sunshine to show the colors in the photos, but it never happened. Though nice, the pics just don't do it justice.
This one is looking back over our shoulder.
As we continued down to the river, the switchbacks brought us to the upper falls. This gorgeous 80-foot waterfall was a highlight.
I had to change lenses and zoom in for a closer look. I was changing lenses all day.
We were a mile and half into the trail at that point, and we decided to continue to the lower falls.
The smaller 45-foot falls was also beautiful. We moved farther down the trail where we stopped for some water and a snack. Linda posed on our picnic rock with the falls and mountains in the background.
Back down next to the creek, we saw a tree that had obviously been cut down by a beaver. A little farther was a larger tree that was in the process of being gnawed. As we searched for signs of the beaver, Linda caught a glimpse of a hummingbird.
She flew right up into a nest about eye level with us and just a couple feet off the trail.
It was the first nesting hummer in the wild we have discovered on our own. Another big highlight.
Linda was just giddy after our few minutes with that little gal. She didn't even care that we weren't half way through our five-mile hike yet.
We continued toward the end where we had this view of the Rio Grande snaking through the canyons.
At the end of the trail we stood on the edge of the river for a few moments.
Then we turned and headed back. I was so hoping the sun would come out and show the contrasting colors - the reds and yellows of the volcanic ash that makes up this canyon. But instead, it started raining.
I had to put the camera away for almost the whole hike back.
But I did pull it out when we came across our first ever Abert's Squirrel.
I was hoping to see one of these adorable and unusual squirrels. This next shot isn't the greatest, but it shows the distinctive ear tufts.
Hey, maybe we are going to get one of those big blue New Mexico skies we're becoming used to.
Well, the skies didn't completely clear up and I didn't get exactly the pictures I wanted, but the Falls Trail was one of our top hikes to date. And we only saw eight other people in our five miles and five hours.
With the incredible scenery, wildlife, and many changes in habitat along the way, if you are physically capable of taking that trail while at Bandelier, do it.
We were pretty tired when we got back to the visitors center. They have a good snack bar and grill, so we took time out for a late lunch before we did the Main Loop Trail.
The Main Loop Trail goes "up canyon" as opposed to the Falls Trail which goes "down canyon" from the visitors center.
In this photo you can see a reconstructed dwelling in the bottom center that shows how houses were butted up against the rock walls.
Whoops. Had to change lenses again to get this skink that was sunning next to the paved trail.
Might as well include this Rock Squirrel before I go back to the wide angle lens.
This is a view of the remnants of a large Pueblo on the canyon floor. The people lived in both this Pueblo and in the cliff-side homes.
Linda climbed up into one of the cave rooms called a "cavate". Because of the angle of the ladder, climbing didn't bother her knees.
More visitor access points along the paved trail.
Farther on is the Long House which is a long series of ruins where multiple story homes were built against the cliffs. These rock walls made of volcanic "tuff" were soft enough to carve out nooks and holes for roof support poles.
As we finished the self-guided tour part of the trail, we had the option to finish the loop or take an additional half mile walk.
We opted to walk the Alcove House Trail. Now to get up to the Alcove House required ascending about 140 feet using steps and very long ladders that you can see in the center of the next photo.
Even as tired as we were, going up wasn't too bad. Here is Linda on one of the longer ladders. Don't look down.
Linda sits on the edge of the reconstructed "kiva" in the Alcove House. Kivas were underground gathering places that functioned as the heart of the communities and families.
Linda descends into the kiva to take a look.
Wonderful views from this cliff dwelling.
The descent from Alcove House was a bit trickier, but we made it safely.
The Alcove House Trail is a level walk along Frijoles Creek through large Ponderosa Pines. A very soothing walk.
One last shot of the mountains where Ancestral Pueblo peoples once built elaborate homes.
We made a day of it at Bandelier and had a great time. One of the things we loved about Bandelier was the quiet, respectful, peacefulness around the dwellings. The few people that were there were whispering and treating it like the sacred place that it is. Going to this wonderful National Monument is well worth the trip.
The drive back out was scenic as well.
I did make one wrong turn toward Los Alamos, but it was apparently meant to be. We found a pull-off with an incredible view. This is the lighting I was looking for all day.
What an awesome day!