“Men in search of a myth will usually find one.” Native American quote
While not as famous as Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico offers plenty in its own right without the hoards of tourists. The site, located just outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico is one of the spectacular locations, which preserves the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people who have inhabited this area for eons. In fact, dating has shown permanent settlements as early as 1150 and the existence of human occupation going back to 10,000 B.C.
The beautifully situated site contains numerous examples of the cliff dwellings, rock paintings, kivas and petroglyphs all located within easy reach.
The most prominent sights are the cliff dwellings, which were the type of housing adapted by the people and highlights the technical features employed. For example, the people often constructed their settlements in the north cliff of a deep valley, so their south-facing location would benefit from the sun. For safety, not only did the height provide protection from invaders and enemies, but there were typically movable ladders that could be easily pulled up at night or in times of conflict.
There are numerous dwellings spread throughout the site, many of which are still in great shape and still retain the blackened ceilings from years of smoke from their fires. Some are cavates, which were natural caves usually enlarged by human endeavor. Others incorporate gaps and crevices in the natural rock, where the natives built adobe walls outward and upward. Of interest are the numerous holes drilled into the walls, which allowed wooden poles to be inserted for roof construction.
Of particular interest is the Alcove House at the far end of the site. Similar to the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, I actually enjoyed this site better because of the fantastic series of ladders leading up 140 feet and the fact that you can do this on your own, without a guide, as is required at Mesa Verde. Atop this large opening is a reconstructed kiva, or ceremonial structure. Round in shape and constructed with adobe, they were used in religious ceremonies and events.
To complement the delightful man-made structures is the natural beauty of the area. The setting, deep in the canyon with a gorgeous stream flowing through, is a draw in itself. Numerous examples of native arid plants dot the landscape and we even encountered a herd of deer grazing on the grasses of the canyon floor.
Although I had never heard of this nice spot before planning our trip to Taos and Santa Fe, it was most certainly one of the highlights of our trip to the region and shouldn’t be missed!