When the girls and I went on our New Mexico trip a couple of months ago, one of the places we really wanted to visit was Bandelier National Monument. At Home Dad and I went a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Since Miss E has been interested in the National Park and National Monuments for a while, this was a good one to put on the “must visit” list. Miss L had asked to study ancient civilizations this year so we were able to add this to her hands-on experiences in learning about them. (It also gave us a chance to visit my brother in Santa Fe!)
Bandelier is where an ancient puebloan civilization lived about 1150. While living here, they built homes that they carved out of the volcanic tuff walls, creating caves or cliff dwellings. They did not plant within the steep walls of the canyons, instead planting on the flat top of the mesa. They cultivated corn, beans, and squash, supplemented with plants that grew naturally here. They hunted for meat, eating deer, rabbit, and even squirrel. There was a fresh water stream that flowed through the canyon.
After about 400 years, the land was beginning to fail and was no longer able to fully support this civilization. Once a drought appeared, the people could no longer stay. By about 1500, they had abandoned this canyon almost completely and were living along the Rio Grande River.
Bandelier is a unique place. The people who lived here built their homes along the canyon walls and in the canyon walls to take advantage of the heat and protection they offered. Using the volcanic tuff, they also built a large circular village on the canyon floor. It is estimated that the village held around 400 rooms, all stacked and layered, made from volcanic tuff blocks. They used mud to mortar the blocks.
But what makes this place really unique is that the visitors are able to walk among the ruins, the homes, the kivas, even going into some of them. The hiking path takes you along the canyon floor and then to the canyon walls, highlighting many of the important places. Some of the caves have ladders placed so you can climb up and enter. Some of the caves are so small you can barely move around and probably served as storage. Others are multi-roomed caverns that you can stand up in and walk around. We climbed into several and got a neat view of the canyon.
The hardest climb, though, comes at the end of the canyon. It is up to Alcove House. Alcove House is carved out of the canyon walls approximately 140 feet up. It is reached by several ladders and sets of stone steps. It is believed that people did indeed live here but it was probably ceremonial. There is a large kiva, many viga holes in the walls (the supporting beams for roofs or second stories), and remains of walls and caves in the walls. It is a hard climb but if you are in shape for it, definitely worth it!
Bandelier is a wonderful place to visit and one that our family really enjoyed. Even if you choose not to visit Alcove House, getting to set foot inside caves that once house ancestral peoples is pretty neat. If you are planning a trip to NM, add this one to your list.