One of the main attractions in the White Rock/Los Alamos area is Bandelier National Monument.  Bandelier is a huge 50 square mile wilderness area with all kinds of impressive sights and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.  But the showcase are the Pubeloan ruins in Frijoles Canyon.

Atomic City transport bus

The park is now reached only by park shuttle bus. In years past you could drive yourself in, and you still can if you have a pet in the car (?).  I have a feeling the monument just became too crowded to accommodate all the cars so they moved to the busses. They were all full, by the way, including standing room only being mostly full!

The shuttles run every 30 minutes during the week and every 20 minutes during the weekend.  Fortunately, the shuttles pickup in front of our RV parking lot.  So its a tough 30 second walk from our MoHo to the bus.  The bus ride is about 20 minutes, and it is nice to have someone else do the driving so we can do the gawking!

Visitor Center

The visitor center is an CCC-built building that is part of a complex of buildings that the CCC built.  In fact, Bandelier National Monument has the most CCC-built features of any National monument.  This includes the road from the top of the mesa to the bottom of Frijoles Canyon – before the CCC built the current road all loads were carried in on foot or hoof.

IMG_2351Frijoles Canyon is subject to flash flooding.  This risk has been made worse recently because the combination of harsh drought and fires have stripped a great deal of vegetation and ground cover that would otherwise serve to reduce the runoff during rainstorms.  A massive flash flood in 2013 nearly wiped out the visitor center and DID wipe out the trails and footbridges.

IMG_2352The barricades that were used to help out with the flood control are still visible throughout the lower canyon.  In the upper canyon, evidence of the massive water surge is evident with massive tree trunks and branches wedged in big piles.

Flood debris

Anyway, Frijoles canyon once supported over 500 people in both canyon floor cities and cliff dwellings.

Tyuonyi (que-weh-nee)

The remains of a large circular city called Tyuonyi sit on the flat valley floor.  Once a multi-story city with hundreds of residents, all that remains are the outlines of the foundations.  The city was large enough to have 3 kivas, ,which are the sunken circular pit rooms that were used for everything from schooling children to meetings to religious ceremonies.

Reconstructed kiva at Tyuonyi

One of the 3 kivas at Tyuonyi has been reconstructed.  It would have had a roof with a small cutout and a ladder to gain access.  As we walked by, a family of 4 were trying to figure out how to climb down there to recover a straw cowboy hat that had blown off in the wind and down to the bottom of the kiva.  It may not look it in this picture, but its about 10 feet deep!  I think that hat is going to be there for a while.


Hiking up to the ruins mean taking a series of trails, some of which are narrow and steep.  Its loads of fun!

…and ladders

Some of the cavates (the name for human enlarged hollows in the cliff face) are accessible via ladder.

Finally found a room smaller than our MoHo

Climbing up to the room revealed what must have been a multi-room dwelling that a large family shared. The “rock” here is really a form of compressed volcanic ash called “tuff.”  In spite of the name, the rock is not tough at all.  Rubbing it with fingers or feet can wear it away.  The Puebloans took advantage of this and used harder volcanic rocks like basalt or obsidian to enlarge and smooth natural openings to form the rooms.

IMG_2366We could look out the front opening and see the valley floor and Tyuonyi below.

IMG_2363Generally, the builders would add rooms to the front of the cavates.  These rooms were used for a variety of purposes including living quarters, cooking, weaving, and food storage.

IMG_2362The rooms are small and the ceilings are low. Ceilings were made by adding horizontal beams called “vigas” and then running smaller branches perpendicularly to the vigas.

IMG_2371Most of the front buildings have weathered away although the foundations are visible. The viga sockets are clearly visible in the cliff face showing how many stories of buildings were there.

Bandelier is very cool place to visit!


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