New Mexico is a remarkable place; home to the oldest capital city in America, the oldest house in North America, and the oldest continuously inhabited settlement. With so much history, it can be easy to overlook some really phenomenal locations. This week, we highlight a location you surely wouldn’t want to miss: Bandelier National Monument. Subscribe to our blog to catch all of our posts where we look differently at the most interesting places in New Mexico!
First, a little history…
Human presence in this area dates back over 10,000 years. Permanent ancestral Puebloan settlements date back to 1150 CE, by 1550, however, those settlers had mainly moved closer to the Rio Grande. When Spanish colonial settlers arrived in the 18th century, Pueblo man Jose Montoya brought Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-born American archaeologist, to visit the area. While gazing out over the cliff dwellings in 1880, Bandelier stated, “It is the grandest thing I ever saw.” Bandelier then led the charge, collecting information and gathering support to preserve the area. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation creating the monument and designating resources to establish supporting infrastructure and a lodge.
During World War II, the monument area was closed to the public for several years as the lodge was used to house those working in Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, developing an atom bomb.
Wildlife in Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument is home to over 55 species of mammals including sixteen species of bats, mule deer, Abert’s squirrels, and mountain lions. The monument was also once home to other mammals like wolves and grizzly bears, but they have since been eradicated by human activity. In the last decade or so, big-horned sheep and river otter have been reintroduced to the area.
What is an Abert’s squirrel?
Abert’s squirrels are unique little animals that are only found where there are enough Ponderosa pine trees to supply their eating habits. The squirrels are true adventure seekers, often scurrying up the height of a pine tree to munch on any part they can get their paws on — from the fungus and tree sap to the pinecones (which they eat the same way humans eat corn-on-the-cob!) and twigs of the Ponderosa pine. These little cuties also often build habitats that can be mistaken for bird nests! High in the branches of the trees, Abert’s use pine duff and other plant materials to build large, messy bird-like nests.
Now, what do we do once we get there?
At the Fanta Se Blog, we have many different outdoor activities we love, but the best way to enjoy Bandelier National Monument is with a weekend trip filled with hiking, camping, and picnicking! With so many beautiful geological phenomena to see, and expansive trails spanning over 70 miles, you could spend a week hiking the Bandelier and still have more to see! We personally recommend The Falls Trail. While there are no archeological sites along this trail, it will take you past the magnificent waterfall within the monument, and you’ll see the effects of erosion from the flash floods of 2011. For the geological nerd in all of us, this trail is a must-see!
Camping in Bandelier National Monument
With so many different species of mammal in the monument, it is imperative to follow proper camping guidelines to maintain the safety of your campsite. Keeping your campsite clean, following fire guidelines, and disposing of your trash properly are key ways to ensure the safety of yourself, and everyone else you’re camping with. There are three main campgrounds in Bandelier National Monument — Juniper Campground (for families and small groups of no more than 10-20 people), Ponderosa Campground (intended for groups larger than 10 people), and Backcountry camping is available with a free permit.
What is Backcountry camping?
With over 70 miles of beautiful trails, one of the most magnificent ways to see them is by camping right on the trail. Be warned, though, with steep switchbacks, icy weather, and many species of mammals including rattlesnakes, it can be very dangerous for those with limited wilderness experience. Water is also hard to come by when camping off-site. While there are many surrounding springs, streams, and creeks, this water must be treated before consumption. Always be sure to carry clean drinking water with you, as it is easy to become dehydrated in the dry, cold winter months as well as the hot and arid summers, with temperatures occasionally peaking above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Picnicking in Bandelier National Monument
There are three designated areas for picnicking with trash receptacles and tables: Parking Lot Island (located on the island in the middle of the parking lot, this shaded area offers several picnic tables and access to facilities), Cottonwood Picnic Area (Next to Frijoles Creek, this picnic area has been recently remodeled and allows self-contained stoves but no open campfires or barbeque grills), and Juniper Campground (Open for picnicking till 4:00, but in the evening camping fees apply; fires are permitted in provided grates). Though the wildlife living in Bandelier National Monument are absolutely adorable and use that to their begging advantage, campers, hikers, and picnickers are reminded not to feed the wildlife.
We hope your visit to Bandelier National Monument is as spectacular as the gorgeous rock formations, entertaining wildlife, and rich history that define this beautiful monument. Join us next time for another look at one of the most amazing places New Mexico has to offer. As always, thank you for being a loyal reader of the Trails West Digest.
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