Rather than go into detail about the history in Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier myself, I’ll let you all read more about it elsewhere if you’re interested; I could write a few thousand words and barely scratch the surface. The Bandelier NPS page has a brief (and likely whitewashed) history, or there’s always the option of a Google search if getting lost down that rabbit hole is more your style. What I will say is that whether you’re a history buff or not, this national monument is a beautiful place to explore, and the opportunity to learn about this rich history in a way much more tangible than a textbook made our visit an incredible day.
The visitor’s center, museum, and theater are still closed due to covid, but all of the outdoor facilities are open, as is one of the campgrounds. We tend to avoid staying at paid sites if we can help it, but opted to stay at this one for the convenience of staying close enough to beat any potential crowds. With our National Parks pass it was only $6 per night, plus there was water which saved us from having to find a place in town to fill up. Anytime we can avoid town chores, we’re more than happy to!
It wasn’t until we drove through the gate and saw a sign that we became aware that weekend was the beginning of National Park Week, so it turns out our plan to stay in the park to beat any potential crowd was a better idea than we initially thought. Had we realized that sooner we might have either bumped our visit up a few days or put it off to some other time, but all things considered we were able to avoid other visitors just fine.
I was a bit nervous about finding a campsite, I always am for popular areas that are first come first served, and we had stopped into Santa Fe on the way for groceries which delayed us a little. We ended up having no issues finding a campsite though, and were even settled in early enough to hike to an overlook after a quick, early dinner.
In the picture to the left here, you can see a trail going down into the canyon; that’s the trail we took from the campground the following day. I don’t think you can really see any in this picture, but some of the cliff dwellings are at the bottom there, just beyond the final switchback. More of them are along the canyon wall below where we stood to take this picture.
In our effort to avoid the crowds, we opted to start the next day with a hike along one of the trails overlooking the canyon. It was a beautiful hike, though not a long one. We stopped for a snack break on top of the cliff where we could look down on one end of the main loop as well as Alcove House, a former dwelling 140 feet up the canyon wall, accessible by a series of ladders and stone steps. It was an unintentionally useful spot, as it provided a great vantage point for scoping out the crowds in the areas we wanted to visit later in the day. Once it seemed like the number of visitors was dwindling, we made our way back down into the canyon and headed for Alcove House. Our cliffside people watching paid off, and we arrived at the ladders during a lull in visitors.
From there we moved on to the Main Loop trail. This loop is the one that brings you by all the cliff dwellings, a few of which you can climb up into.
There’s more at Bandelier we didn’t have time to explore, but we’ve grown fond of the area in general so I imagine we’ll be back. We’re already talking about other places around here we’d like to visit (or revisit) after the CDT, so a second Bandelier visit might be in order then.