The view leaving Bandelier National Monument.

Almost a decade ago, my husband and I visited Mesa Verde with our little one. I was floored by the history that I hadn’t realized existed so close to me. Ever since then I’ve wanted to know more about the area and native populations that lived and made this area of the United States their home. We had the chance this past October on a visit to Santa Fe. We stayed at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. This adventure tour of Bandelier National Monument and the surrounding area through their Adventure Center was an amazing opportunity. Our tour was guided by Adventure Architect, Forest Fene, a former Park Ranger. As such he is very knowledgeable on the local area and cultures.

The Cottonwoods at Bandelier National Monument in the fall are a spectacular yellow.

What a treat to to be led on this private tour by Forest Fene. The drive to Bandelier National Monument flew by as Forest enthralled us with stories of the local geography and topography. He imparted to us an understanding of the local cultures and the natural environment we were passing through. And, it was all presented in a manner that both the ten-year-old and six-year-old could understand.

What we learned on the way to Bandelier National Monument

On the beautiful drive through the Rio Grande Valley to Bandelier National Monument Forest pointed out the Rio Grande river, the golden yellow (in the autumn) Cottonwoods that line the river. He pointed out the monument in the distance that is actually on an active volcano. And, we learned that it is a super volcano which last erupted 1.2 million years ago.

Remnants of Long House at Bandelier National Monument.
The remnants of Long House at Bandelier National Monument, where ancient Pueblo people lived from 1150 – 1550 AD.

Forest gave us insights in to the culture. While we drove through land that was technically reservations, we learned that the native people don’t like that label. Reservations tend to have a negative reputation. They typically are low value land to where the white people forced natives when they took over native lands. In this case the natives actually fought back and kept the rights to their original lands. We learned that instead of Anistazi, the name the Spanish gave them, they prefer ancient Pueblo people. And, that’s where we were headed. To see where the ancient Pueblo’s lived from about 1150 to 1500 AD., though human presence in the area dates back much further.

What is Bandelier National Monument?

The area gets its name from Adolph Francis Bandelier, a Swiss-born scholar who grew up in Illinois and came to the Southwest to study the Pueblos. In 1880 he became the first to study and report on the dwelling sites in Frijoles Canyon. There are two areas and types of dwellings that the ancient Pueblos would have lived in simultaneously. The village on the canyon floor would have been ideal for summer inhabitance, while the dwellings built into the cliffs may have been winter dwellings. In the Tyuonyi village there were a minimum of 245 ground level rooms, and may have had many more stacked above. We really enjoyed the cavates most. These homes dug into the “tuff” of the cliff were fun to climb up into and imagine people living there or gathering in the larger cavates.

Along the loop we spotted rock paintings and petroglyphs left behind by the ancient Pueblo people.

We took the Main Loop Trail loops through archeological areas, including the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. Along the way we climbed ladders up into the cavates, including a large one which was actually a kiva in the cliff. We saw petroglyphs carved into the cliffs and imagined how people lived hundreds of years ago. The area itself is stunningly beautiful.

The visitor’s center features two dioramas illustrating what the homes would have looked like. Other exhibits inform about the site’s inhabitants, including Ancestral Pueblo pottery, tools and artifacts of daily life.

Kids will love climbing in the cavatas at Bandelier National Monument..
Looking out of one of the cavatas built into the tuff of the cliff made of volcanic ash.

When is Bandelier National Monument Open?

The park is open year-round. During the peak months the park is only accessible via shuttle or private tour.

Where is Bandelier National Monument located?

Bandelier National Monument is located just outside of Santa Fe, next to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Bandelier National Monument with kids is a highly educational experience, especially if you go with a local guide. Learn about ancient Pueblo people who lived in the area from 1150 - 1550 AD, see beautiful nature and have fun. Here's what to know before you go! #BandelierNationalMonument #NationalParks

Bandelier National Monument with Kids

Liana Moore

Liana Moore is a third-culture kid with a hangover from those days that is a severe case of wanderlust. She is more comfortable driving the cliffs of Amalfi, Italy or the dirt roads of Costa Rica or attempting to decipher the street signs of Osaka, Japan than navigating the theme parks of Disney World. But she loves it all. She doesn't believe a vacation is complete without an adventure. Her husband and kids know well that "adventure" often is code for mishap or challenge and it usually results in a good story. They seek outdoor experiences whether in the mountains, on a beach or in the jungle of a tropical country. Her favorite vacation is... all the ones she hasn't yet taken, as well as those she plans on taking again. And, that list is so, so long. But she continues to extensively explore her home state of Colorado, spends lots of time wandering Texas, California, New Mexico, Costa Rica, Mexico, Norway and has even explored Kazakhstan.

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