Friday, September 11, 2015

Road Trip - Bandelier National Monument

Pueblo Tyuonyi ruins, one of several Ancestral Pueblos at Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument is a 33,727 acre park preserving Ancestral Pueblo sites and keeping the area safe which has hosted human activity for over 10,000 years. The Frijoles canyon area holds the Tyuonyi Pueblo, Long House and talus houses of cliff dwellings. Bandelier holds over 3000 documented Ancestral Pueblo sites with very few restored. The main loop trail is only 1.2 miles long and is partially handicapped accessable.
The Ancestral Pueblo people, once called the Navajo word Anasazi for "Ancient Enemies", came to this land around 10,000 years ago, starting as hunter-gatherers, roaming the mesa tops above the canyons where they eventually grew the 3 main plants of the time: corn, squash and beans, and hunted small animals for meat and hide. 

Swiss Cheese-like holes in the soft volcanic tuft
And carved Cavates in the tuft
The mesa top is called Pajarito (for little bird)  and was formed by two violent volcanic eruptions of the Jemez Mountains 14 miles to the west about one million years ago, now the site of Valles Caldera National Preserve. Each of the two eruptions were 600 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption at Mount St. Helens.

Looking up the canyon walls
Morning light on the cactus
The soft volcanic tuft now looks like Swiss cheese along the Frijoles Creek area.  Trees and shrubs grow well in the canyon alongside the permanent stream and draw wildlife. The reliable water source must have been very important to the Ancestral Pueblo people, providing drinking and cooking water, plus water for plants.

Canyon wall houses
Inside the Cavates with the metates
The 400-room Tyuonyi Pueblo housed about 100 people. There were 3 kivas inside the walls and only one entrance. Ground floor rooms typically stored food and turkeys, with family housing above. Most rooms were either entered via a rooftop ladder, some by a small doorway. Ceilings were wood logs covered with earth and mud, random awnings shaded some homes.

Roof entry
Ladders, ladders everywhere
The south-facing canyon walls, warmer during the winter, held 2 story Pueblos with 2-3 stone built rooms, with one or two rooms carved from the cliff face using stone tools. Cavate ceilings were blackened with soot to harden the stone and make it less crumbly. Horizontal rows of holes show where the roof beams were placed. The walls and floors were mud plastered, requiring constant maintenance.

More Cavates, more ladders
The beginning of the Long House along the cliff, note the holes in the wall for ceiling posts
And steps with helpful modern handrails
The Long House ruins go almost half a mile along the cliff face.  One painted wall was uncovered and is now on display. Petroglyphs are cut above the roofs into the cliff with carvings of turkeys, dogs, lightning and parrots. Yes, parrots were traded here, along with copper bells as part of an extensive trading network from Mexico to the US Central Plains. The petroglyphs seem to have much deeper and specific meanings to the native people who carved them, and may be considered another language. Ideas were traded here too as there are significant construction techniques found in the big kiva that mirror those found at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.

Found hidden behind plaster, this wall shows how it had been painted at one time
The petroglyphs are hard to see, but they are above the holes in the wall
More petroglyphs
And more, here you can see the circles clearly

The parrot petroglyph in the cleft
Alcove house is a steep climb 140 feet above the creek floor on ladders and stone stairs on the north-facing cliff wall. We did not climb there today, but expect it is much like Balcony House at Mesa Verde.
500 people were living here at the peak on the Pajarito Plateau around 1325 CE. Most Pueblos ranged from 150 to 500 rooms, some contained 1000 to 1500 rooms.
It has been 450 years since people lived in the Pueblos at Bandelier, and they had lived there previously for 400 years, growing food, raising children, and living life. Modern Pueblo peoples still visit the site and respect their elders. There is so much more to explore here and I'll be back to spend more time at Bandelier.

Frijoles creek on its way to meet the Rio Grande
View of the cliff face from the creek
Looking back at the cliffs from the visitor center, the large kiva is on the left just past that tree
Bandelier National Monument runs shuttle buses every 30 minutes daily 9am to closing from the park welcome center in White Rock. Parking at the canyon site is extremely limited and the buses make it a much safer trip. If you are camping at Juniper Campground, drive on to the actual park entrance, pay there and setup camp in the campground.  Keep your entrance tab for the bus.  A bus also runs from the campground down to the Frijoles Canyon every 30 minutes.

Parting shots of flowers on the way out

To find Bandelier National Monument, drive north on US 285 & US 84 from Santa Fe, turn left onto NM 502 and follow to NM 4 near White Rock. It is about a 40-45 minute drive from Santa Fe.

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