Frijoles Canyon Hike
Frijoles Canyon Trail - Bandelier National Monument
Anyone who visits Santa Fe, New Mexico will want to visit Bandelier National Monument about an hour distant from the city via St. Francis Drive, also known as Highway 84/285 that goes to Los Alamos. Take
St. Francis Drive/Highway 84/285 past Pojoaque and merge right onto New Mexico Highway 502 to Los Alamos.
Once on 502 continue on towards Los Alamos and keep an eye out for an opportunity to bear right and exit onto New Mexico 4 for 12 miles towards and passing White Rock. Once past White Rock the entrance to Bandelier National Monument is on the left. There is a fee for entrance which is $6.00 per day for a single vehicle, $12.00 for a seven-day pass or $30.00 for an annual pass to the monument.
For travel directions from Taos, Los Alamos or Albuquerque check the National Park Service website.
Frijoles Canyon Trail, also known as the Main Loop has usually been the most popular hike in Bandelier National Monument - becoming rather crowded in summer. Although only 1.2 miles long there is an abundance to see along the way - like a large kiva, followed by the main ruins situated on the valley floor (Tyuonyi).
The trail then climbs slightly to the base of the cliffs on the north side of the canyon where the ancient cliff dwellings can be seen up close. These ruins extend for a third of a mile and include several rooms that may be entered, via ladders.
The rest of the loop is finished by crossing Frijoles Creek and returning through a wooded area on the far side. Another option is to hike another half mile further on upstream to Alcove House, a bit larger dwelling situated in a high alcove.
The beginning of the Main Loop starts at the visitor center and winds through the trees close to the creek. The first of the ruins have been partly rebuilt - the 40-foot wide Big Kiva, and in the middle of a grassy clearing, the two-storied Tyuonyi Pueblo. Like the kiva, the village has been excavated and partially restored - a site which once had over 400 rooms on two levels and occupied by over 600 people.
The Main Loop heads right past the pueblo to the base of the cliffs where the cave dwellings are found. These were built into the soft volcanic soil cliffs by enlarging hundreds of natural cavities. The first group of ruins are centered on Talus House, which is a rebuilt dwelling at the base of the cliffs.
The other cave dwellings are known collectively as Long House that once was a large four story structure. Some of the alcoves have painted walls and pictographs - one has been protected behind a plastic screen. Other locations have petroglyphs, but all rather faint.
The return part of the trail has many more cliff houses that are clearly visible along the canyon walls beyond the end of this section of the loop, but off-trail hiking is not allowed. (*note: personal pets are not allowed in the park)
From there the loop crosses Frijoles Creek to the south side of the canyon and brings hikers back to the visitor center. The hike is finished on a bridge over the creek which leads to the parking lot. Another point of interest is the site of the Ranch of the 10 Elders, the first homestead to be built in the canyon back in 1907.
Although nothing remains of the dwelling as the lodge was torn down in the 1930s and replaced by the current building near the visitor center. Both had been inhabited by the early settlers, Evelyn and George Frey. Even though George passed away, Evelyn lived there until 1988.
Other trails and paths exist in abundance in Bandelier National Monument. Unfortunately, although still quite spectacular, the Bandelier backcountry was heavily damaged by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. This fire burned more than 60% of the park and in the massive flooding that occurred in all the park canyons following the fire, many trails were destroyed.
The Park staff worked hard at making repairs, but recurring flooding made their efforts difficult. Most of the old landmarks are gone and some of the trails are very difficult to follow with shade much less available than in the past.
It is important to always check at the visitor center for current conditions before hiking in Bandelier National Monument.
Still, within Bandelier National Monuments 33,000 acres there are over 70 miles of trail. Some trails are short easy loops with others often encompassing many miles of steep rocky switchbacks. There are even two trails designated for cross-country skiing during the winter.
Some of the longer trails often involve hiking more than 10 miles round-trip. Wilderness permits are available at the visitor center for overnight stays in the park, but water is not readily available on most backcountry trails. Always check at the visitor center for more detailed information. Pets are not permitted on any park trails.
For more information you can contact the Visitor Center at 505-672-3861 ext. 517 or Trails Program Manager at ext. 345.
If you visit Bandelier please report any trail problems to Trails Program Manager at the above telephone number.
Trail status can be found on the National Park Service website.
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