Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Four years ago, we visited Bandelier National Monument, another of our monuments set aside to protect the ruins of dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans. At the time we visited in 2004, the trail we most wanted to hike, alongside a creek through Frijoles Canyon to the Rio Grande, was closed due to damage from a flash flood.

For this visit, I called in advance - yes, the Frijoles Canyon trail was open, but a prescribed burn was planned for sometime during the week! We called back yesterday morning before we headed out (Bandelier is about 50 miles from here) - the canyon trail was open, the burn was delayed, the road construction hadn't started yet... off we went!

We had a perfect day for sightseeing. You can see by these photos that this is an arid area, so the cool, creekside walk through forested Frijoles Canyon as a nice contrast. We cut that hike a bit short, though, because there was another section of the monument, detached from the main section, that I particularly wanted to visit: Tsankawi.

The Tsankawi pueblo has not been excavated. The trail, more primitive than those in the main section of the monument, winds up to the top of the mesa, where you can wander among the fallen stones of the pueblo, down a ladder and along a ledge to the small caves used as cliff dwellings.

What I LOVED, though, was the trail itself. These mesas are the product of volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago that deposited a thick layer of ash, volcanic "tuff". Tuff is rather soft, which made it easy to "work" into dwellings - to cut for bricks, or to scrape to enlarge already existing caves. It also wears easily, and the pathways used by the Puebloans to travel through their "neighborhood" are easily seen.

Look at the wear pattern in this picture. At times, the path was so deeply etched that the sides were knee high - sometimes even higher. I can tell you, the Ancestral Puebloans had feet and thighs considerably smaller than mine! The white tuff dust covered our shoes and pant legs.

We crawled up or down three ladders, explored the insides of small cave dwellings, and examined the pictographs along the cliff face. We sat for awhile and tried to imagine ourselves as A.P's, gazing at our maize patches in the canyon below our feet. The deeply eroded trail and the carved hand and footholds going up and down the cliffs captured my imagination much more powerfully than the excavated pueblos in the main section of the monument. If you visit Bandelier, don't miss Tsankawi.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Think of how many feet had to walk every day, for how many years to cut those trails that deep. Wow!

    You do find the absolutely neatest stuff.