Discovering More Of ‘The Land of Enchantment’…
This being our first visit to New Mexico, and having started it off with a bang by celebrating my 35th birthday at the ‘2014 International Balloon Fiesta‘ in Albuquerque, we were eager to get back on the road and see what else this mountain state had to offer.
After leaving our backpacks in the car boot for a few days, choosing to ditch the hiking clothes along with the tent in favour of a motel and some home comforts (just for a while), we took up the tourist trail in search of New Mexico’s legendary green chilli burrito, as well as embarking on our own ‘Do-It-Yourself Breaking Bad Tour’.
But it was our visit to Bandelier National Monument that really impressed us, as we travelled north from Albuquerque and took to the hills once again.
Birthday celebrations in Albuquerque! We swapped the campfire and cooking stove for a ‘fancy’ meal at Olive Garden.
Having never heard of it before, we found Bandelier National Monument to be an unexpected highlight of our time in New Mexico. Operated by the US National Park Service, (which meant we could gain ‘free’ entry using our Annual Pass) this National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of rugged, beautiful canyons and preserves some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins in the Southwest, including homes and petroglyphs of the Ancestral Pueblo People. (If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll know this is a really big statement coming from someone who has been well and truly ‘ruined’ out from our time in South America!)
Walking from the Juniper Campsite to the Visitor Centre which took us from the top of Frijoles Canyon to the bottom, past several Puebloan homes.
View from above of the Tyuonyi Puebloan Village.
Finally at ground level looking closely at what remains of the ancestral Puebloan homes.
Stopped in our tracks by a bull snake crossing the footpath!
Wooden ladders allow visitors an up close and personal opportunity to examine the Puebloan cliff dwellings.
You can pay for a ‘tour guide’ to take you round the cliff dwellings and explain the significance of each of the remains. We did our own tour and read the information boards that are on display throughout this section of the National Monument.
Ground level view of the remains of the Tyuoni Puebloan homes.
Evidence of human activity in Bandelier National Monument dates back more than 10,000 years. This underground area is known as Big Kiva, a place central to the village and used for religious activities, education and decision making.
Just a few minutes drive from the scientific research town of Los Alamos (famous for its classified work towards the design of nuclear weapons and the next place that Wayne really wanted to visit), Bandalier National Monument receives around 200,000 visitors per year. This is just 4% in comparison with the 5 million visitors that descend on the Grand Canyon each year. We were surprised at this figure considering Bandelier is close to other popular destinations including Santa Fe, the Jemez Mountains and several other historic pueblo settlements. But on the plus side, all the better for us as we got the chance to hike on a relatively unused trail.
In addition to this, about 70% of Bandelier National Monument is a designated ‘Wilderness Area’, perfect for hikers wishing to enjoy viewing remote archaeological sites and spotting rare wildlife in a less developed, less busy park. The steep, narrow canyons make for a challenging day hike but we really enjoyed our time exploring this colourful section of the Rio Grande Valley. With plentiful wildlife, mountains rising to 10,200 feet, and many acres of unspoilt backcountry we couldn’t have picked a better place to visit in New Mexico. Apart from several buses of tourists that arrived at the Visitor Centre in readiness for a guided tour of the Tyuoni Puebloan homes (a positive knock on effect of the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque), we passed only a handful of other hikers the entire day.
Map of our day hike in Bandelier National Monument.
We chose to combine a couple of the shorter walking trails to give us around an 18 mile day hike. This included part of the Frijoles Canyon Rim Trail, combined with a 6 mile trail from the Visitor Centre that took us to the Yapashi Pueblo, where we spotted fragments of pottery and other similar Puebloan artifacts located at the site. This was a strenuous hike that passed through Mid-Alamo Canyon and we would only recommend it as a day hike if you are physically fit. (Even after the John Muir Trail, we found it very tiring traversing two canyons in a single day! This was compounded by the fact we missed the last shuttle bus from the Visitor Centre back to our campsite and had to walk the additional 3 miles!) The trail is also very overgrown in places and difficult to navigate due to extensive damage caused by flash floods over the last few years. Some past landmarks are gone, and signage has been washed away making the trail difficult to follow in places. Shade from the sun is also in short supply. But don’t let this put you off! Bandelier is still a very beautiful place to hike.
Other Tips! There is no water available anywhere on this route so be sure to fill up at the Visitor Centre before you start. We both ended up with several scratches to our legs and arms because of the type of vegetation on the trail, so from our own experience we would definitely not recommend wearing shorts if you plan on taking our route.
Setting off into Frijoles Canyon towards the Visitor Centre.
Taking the Yapashi Trail from the Visitor Centre.
A great view looking down Frijoles Canyon.
Starting the switchbacks and heading down.
Making our way to the Yapashi Puebloan archaeological site.
Feeling small in Mid-Alamo Canyon.
Autumn is the season to spot male tarantulas as they leave their burrows to seek a mate.
Looking across the Rio Grande Valley towards Los Alamos.
The canyons are more rugged and the walking trails are less maintained than in more popular parks.
The autumn colours are very striking.
Flash floods over the last few years have had an impact on some of the hiking trails, washing away signs and making some sections difficult to pass.
Another view of the rugged canyons protected by Bandalier National Monument.
We were lucky enough to spot a mule deer up close whilst making our way back to the Visitor Centre.
Dramatic skies before sunset as we continue towards our campsite.
After leaving Bandelier National Monument, we took a short drive into the nearby town of Los Alamos where Wayne spent the afternoon visiting the Bradbury Science Museum. Not being one for anything remotely scientific myself, I opted to find a laundromat and get on with the weekly task of laundry!
Now having Googled about the Bradbury Science Museum purely for this blog post, I can say without hesitation that I’m glad I gave it a miss. But if you want to find out more about the atomic bomb, the National Laboratory, and the Manhattan Project, then this is certainly the place to visit!
The entrance to the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos.
A model of the inside of the first atomic bomb.
The detonator of an atomic bomb.
‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ – Model atomic bombs used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan during 1945.
After Los Alamos, our next stop was Santa Fe, the capital state of New Mexico. The city is well known as a centre for the arts. But our main purpose for visiting was not to wander the numerous galleries and gift shops, but to go hiking in Hyde Memorial State Park where we camped.
Unfortunately this did not turn out to be the case due to two days of torrential rain whilst we were there. We had planned on hiking the ‘Aspen Vista Trail’ to see and photograph the striking autumnal colours of the famous aspen trees. But instead we spent two days hauled up in McDonalds typing up blog posts and uploading photos about the John Muir Trail. (Other fast food chains with free wi-fi are available!)
The great thing about state park campsites in New Mexico though is that as well as supplying campers with the standard campfire and picnic table, we were also lavished with a barbeque grill and wooden shelter, which provided us with some much needed respite from the rain. (And was a perfect place to sit and play games in the evening! Such is the life of a hiker!)
Wayne prepares the campfire during a break in the rain. Our new tent is still standing strong after he re-sealed the seams. No leaks so far!
Roasted vegetables and tandoori chicken on the menu tonight.
Time for a game of ‘National Parks Monopoly’, purchased from the gift shop at the Grand Canyon.
New Mexico proved an eventful couple of weeks where we had lots of fun exploring the ‘Land of Enchantment’. From tasting green chilli burritos for breakfast at the International Balloon Fiesta, to dining in Twisters where ‘Breaking Bad’ was filmed, to hiking in a lesser known, beautifully rugged national park area, to renewing my interest in ruins, we are really glad we made the effort to visit what was for us a new state on our journey through the USA.
From New Mexico our next stop was Colorado where we experienced a huge contrast from the windswept peaks of Sand Dunes National Park to driving on icy roads and hiking in snow as we made our way to the Rocky Mountains. (Both new National Parks that we hadn’t visited previously during our road trip in 2011). Find out more about our time in Colorado in our next blog post coming soon!