Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - Bandelier NM

As we drove down the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps-built road on a steep decline from Burnt Mesa to the bottom of Frijoles Canyon, I had an odd sense of change. We were going to visit some of the oldest ruins in the country - those of the Anasazi, the Old Ones.

When the last millennium began, the Anasazi had already lived in the Southwest for 1,000 years. They stayed for another half millennium -- and then they mysteriously vanished. What they left behind -- stone cities clinging low to mesa tops, huddled in caves and scattered along sheer canyon walls -- are among the oldest, largest and most impressive monumental ruins in America.

Bandelier National Monument is located on the Pajarito (little bird) Plateau, between the Jemez Mountains on the west and the Rio Grande on the east. It is named in honor of Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, a Swiss-American explorer, anthropologist, and archaeologist, and was proclaimed a National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson on February 11, 1916. (See Jemez Country Map).  

September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999

Frijole Canyon from Burnt Mesa

The Pajarito Plateau in Northern New Mexico was created from volcanic pumice, lava and ash flows which erupted from nearby Jemez Volcano a million years ago.

Bandelier National Monument's most accessible ruins as well as the Visitor Center (elev. 6066 feet) are in Frijoles Canyon (map), a deep gorge cut in the Pajarito Plateau by the Rito de los Frijoles or Bean Creek. More than 2,400 sites have been located in the Park's 32,737 acres, although not all were lived in at the same time.


A Storm Greets our Arrival

After parking in the backpacker and overflow parking area, we had lunch at the Snack Bar. We just made it inside when a spectacular afternoon storm broke, complete with lightening and buckshot-sized hale.

For the next half hour or so, hikers and tourist, caught unprepared on the trails, came straggling in. Then, the storm passed, the sun returned, and the stone patio and asphalt drive steamed while they were drying.

We spent the next half hour watching a film about the Monument and its history.


September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999

Cliff Dwellings Along the Base of Burnt Mesa

On the floor of Frijoles Canyon, stretching along the sheltering base of Burnt Mesa are scattered caves cliff dwellings, known as cavates, and the remains of stone homes of the Anasazi. The Anasazi -- the Ones Who Came Before -- reached their peak somewhere around 1350 and then disappeared.

Among the descendants of the Anasazi at Bandelier are the Cochiti Pueblo Indians, living today 10 miles south of the Frijoles Canyon dwellings.


Long House

The cliff was formed from compressed volcanic ash or tuff. The early Anasazi lived in caves they made by scooping out the soft talus rock with harder stone tools. Later they built talus houses of stone and mud. At times both caves and talus houses were both occupied.

In this picture is a section of the Long House, an 800 foot stretch of adjoining, multi-storied stone homes with hand carved caves as back rooms.


September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999

Talus Houses (Restored) near Tyuonyi

These houses of talus rock and mud were irregularly terraced, from 1 to 3 stories high, and had many cave rooms gouged out of the solid cliff.


Cliff Dwellings and Talus Houses

Cliff ruins and talus villages extend along the base of the sheltering northern wall of Frijol Canyon for almost two miles.


September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999


Small Boy on Ladder to Cliff Dwelling

This little boy was perhaps 4-year-old. From the shadows of the cave, the hands of an adult can be seen holding the top of the ladder as the boy reaches the top.

I was not anxious to climb that ladder, but I thought that if a 4-year-old can make it, I can too. So I climbed up.

Being inside this cave, carved by hand from the soft stone by someone or perhaps a dozen or hundred someones over the generations, was the most memorable experience I had at Bandelier National Monument.

The sense of distance and aloneness was palpable.


Village of Tyuonyi

Tyuonyi, on the floor of Frijoles Canyon, was inhabited at the same time as the dwellings built along the base of the cliff.

At the height of its development in the 1400s, the village of Tyuonyi was a completely enclosed circle of multi-level stone and masonry building. Some Anasazi villages had as many as 600 rooms.

For a sense of perspective on its size, if you look carefully inside the circle toward the bottom center you may be able to make out two park employees.


September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999

Big Kiva

Kivas are ceremonial room usually built underground. Entrance is almost always via a ladder through the roof. Just as churches are associated with Christian religions, Kivas are associated with the religious practices of the Anasazi and Pueblo Indians.

Kivas are typically two or three times the size of other rooms. The village of Tyuonyi may have had three Kivas.

This Big Kiva is located roughly half way between the Visitor Center and Tyuonyi.


Email: Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten