Can you imagine spending your spring and summer at a cliff side home with a view out onto a stunning beautiful canyon? Out the windows you can see beautiful red rock cliffs across the canyon, a creek bubbling below and a village of people existing peacefully together. Sound idyllic doesn’t it? Well, welcome to 1100 AD! We had an opportunity to take a walk back in time at Bandelier National Monument and get a glimpse of how the Ancestral Pueblo people lived.
These cliff dwellings were definitely rustic and life while perhaps peaceful, was very much dependent on having enough food stores to keep the village fed. The Ancestral Pueblo people who lived here from approximately 1150 AD to 1550 AD built homes carved from the volcanic tuff and planted crops in mesatop fields. Corn, beans, and squash were central to their diet, supplemented by native plants and meat from deer, rabbit, and squirrel. Domesticated turkeys were used for both their feathers and meat while dogs assisted in hunting and provided companionship.
No Fred Meyer one stop shopping, no running water, no electricity, refrigeration or easy mode of transportation. Hmm, maybe seems a bit less idyllic now doesn’t it! We all take these things for granted now, hunting and gathering evolves a trip to the local grocery store where almost anything you need will be waiting or a quick trip through Mickey D’s where instantly food appears.
Cavates, carved rooms, were also common behind the rooms built at the bottom of cliffs. Luckily, the tuff is soft and malleable. Carving these rooms using stone tools would have still been very difficult. The walls of the cavates were often plastered and the ceilings smoked. Smoking the ceiling made it less crumbly. Sometimes pictographs painted on or petroglyphs were carved into the walls.
Most of us have never really known famine, drought or great hardship like these Ancestral People likely experienced. By 1550, the Ancestral Pueblo people had moved from this area to pueblos along the Rio Grande. After over 400 years the land here could no longer support the people and a severe drought added to what were already becoming difficult times. Oral traditions tell us where the people went and who their descendents are. The people of Cochiti Pueblo, located just south and east along the Rio Grande, are the most direct descendents of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon.
Personally, I was happy to experience and explore Frijoles Canyon by car and by foot knowing I was going back to all the modern conveniences. I felt the spirit of these ancestral people and wondered how on earth they managed climbing all those ladders on a regular basis. The fear of dying was strong in my mind as I climbed all 140 feet of ladders, returning to the ground with shaky legs and a deep gratitude for being alive in the 20th century.
Bandeiler is also a hikers paradise with 70-plus miles of trails. Elevations from 5300’ at the Rio Grande to over 10,000’ at the top of Cerro Grande – Bandelier offers a variety of scenery and habitats. Hikers will inevitably encounter challenging terrain, sweeping mesa tops, lush canyons, and isolated archeological sites. Hiking choices vary in distance and difficulty, with choices including: four miles one-way to the 600’ deep gorge of Alamo Canyon; six miles one-way to the ancestral pueblo of Yapashi; a 22-mile loop to Painted Cave in Capulin Canyon; about seven miles one-way to the densely forested upper part of Frijoles Canyon, repeatedly crossing El Rito de los Frijoles (Bean Creek). As with most national parks or monuments dogs are not allowed so Mr. B spent his day home relaxing.
We opted for a flat 3 mile hike after touring the ruins and took the Upper Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail loops through the Las Conchas fire burn area and out to a beautiful overlook of the canyon.
The 2011 fire and subsequent flooding have left trails in the Frijoles Canyon severely damaged but the park is working to restore them. It is fascinating to see the devastation up close and also see nature taking its course of revitalization.
Bandelier is a gem of a park and with so many great hiking options, we hope to make it back again to continue exploring before we leave the Santa Fe area.