Heading out of Santa Fe at last, we cruised towards the Bandalier National Monument, a dry collection of canyons and mesas near Los Alamos.
It’s also the ancestral home of the Pueblo peoples, a collection of Native American tribes occupying this area of the southwest for the last two thousand years or so, and their houses carved into the cliff-faces still lace the landscape.
Leaving Meow Wolf, we intended to head to the main loop trail through Frijoles Canyon, but the visitor center closed at 5 pm, and we were long past that. Fortunately, a quick consult with alltrails.com led us to the Tsankawai Ruins, a much less trafficked trail just off the main road to Los Alamos.
We didn’t see another soul along our two-hour hike up to the top of the mesa, through paths deeply rutted into the sandstone by millenia of use, past ancient petroglyphs and in and out of the cavates (the small cave dwellings carved out cliff walls by the pueblos people.)
Zevin was ecstatic the whole way, marveling at the depth of the paths, scurrying up and down the ladders and peering through the windows and chimneys made the the ancients. He made some attempts at recording Youtube videos for his channel, but nothing quite made the cut. Stick around and you guaranteed to see one here, though. He’s determined.
We made it back just at sunset and drove to nearby Juniper Campground for a night’s sleep before hitting the Bandalier main loop for the day. The caves here were more numerous by an order of magnitude, more spectacular and better preserved, but the crowds of tourists swarming the ladders and paths made it a bit less enjoyable for me.
Still, I was wonderstruck at the way the natural rock cuts and formations mirrored those made by human hands all down the canyon. Worth the trip.