Exploring Bandelier National Monument: We Conquered the Alcove House Ladder Climb!

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Exploring Bandelier National Monument

Discovering Bandelier National Monument

Welcome to our journey to Bandelier National Monument, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Northern New Mexico. Join us as we explore ancient ruins, breathtaking landscapes, and scenic hikes. Then follow us to heart-pounding heights, where we overcame our fear of heights and conquered the Alcove House Ladder Climb!

Watch us Conquer the Alcove House Ladder Climb on YouTube!

Where is Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument rests in the majestic Frijoles Canyon, just an hour northwest of Santa Fe and two hours north of Albuquerque. Its convenient location makes it an ideal day trip or weekend getaway for adventurers seeking a blend of history and natural beauty.

It is also possible to combine a visit to Bandelier National Monument with Los Alamos, just a short 30-minute drive away. While in Los Alamos, be sure to visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the fascinating Bradbury Science Museum.

What to Expect at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders. There are dwellings carved into steep cliff walls, ancient kivas, and intricate petroglyphs. As we wandered through this sacred place, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder and awe for the Ancestral Puebloan people who once called this place home.

Petroglyphs at Bandelier

Bandelier National Monument is known for its ancient dwellings that can be seen up close. Many of them can be entered by climbing wooden ladders.

Archaeologists have dated human presence in the region going back over 11,000 years, with permanent settlement starting in Bandelier by Ancestral Puebloan people by 1150 CE (AD). By about 1550 CE (AD), the settlement at Bandelier, like many other Pueblos in the area, was abandoned.

Ancient cliff dwellings

Archaeologists have dated human presence in the region going back over 11,000 years, with permanent settlement starting in Bandelier by ancestral Puebloan people by 1150 CE (AD). By about 1550 CE (AD), the settlement at Bandelier, like many other Pueblos in the area, was abandoned.

When to go to Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is open dawn to dusk year-round, except on Christmas, or heavy snow days.

We visited in July, which was very hot. If you visit in the summer, get there in the early morning as the west-facing cliffs provide some shade.

If you want to escape the heat, we recommend visiting Bandelier in late spring/early summer, or in autumn.

Tip: Call the Visitor Center to check out current weather conditions to know if it might impact some trails. You can also visit the National Park Service website to get the latest alerts.

Getting around Bandelier National Monument

For part of the year, Bandelier National Monument is only accessible via shuttle. The free shuttle departs from the White Rock Visitor Center and runs daily from 9 am to 3 pm. If you arrive outside of those hours, you can drive your own car. Note that parking at the Bandelier Visitor Center is very limited.

You can access the campgrounds by car; however, all trails are for walking only. The trails are, depending on the hike, either easy, flat, and paved, or more difficult with some steep drop-offs.

Bandelier National Monument offers over 70 miles of trails covering 33,000 acres of land. No matter which hikes you choose, we promise it will be rewarding.

Bandelier has a beautiful variety of hikes for everyone. Some of the hikes are paved and flat. Keep in mind that these are sacred spaces. Don’t leave the path, and do NOT climb, stand, or sit on the walls or structures!

Amazed by the ingenuity of ancient engineering at Bandelier National Monument

Exploring the Main Pueblo Loop

Our journey began with the Main Pueblo Loop, a 1.4-mile trail that led us past the main archaeological sites such as the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and the Long House. Along the way, we were amazed by the ingenuity of ancient engineering and imagined life in these ancient settlements.

This took us a little over 4.5 hours as we stopped several times to take pictures and videos, and just to enjoy the view!

The Main Pueblo Loop Trail Highlights

The Main Pueblo Loop trail is the 1.4-mile, or 2.2-kilometer loop that took us to the main archaeological sites of the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. Much of the trail is paved, however, there are stairs to climb if you want a close-up visit of the cliff dwellings.

Map of Bandelier National Monument
Map of Bandelier National Monument

Our first stop was the Big Kiva, a community gathering place where Ancestral Pueblo people celebrated religious and political life. As we looked within its ancient walls, we felt a connection to the spiritual essence of this sacred space.

Next, we encountered Tyuonyi. Tyuonyi was once a sprawling 2-story complex with over 400 rooms.

Tyuonyi at Bandelier National Monument

Afterward, we climbed up a ladder into one of the cliff dwellings of the Talus House section of the trail and enjoyed the breathtaking views of the Frijoles Canyon. We tried to imagine what life must have been like. Little did we know what an unforgettable climb was still to come!

The next highlight on the Pueblo Loop Trail was the Long House! The houses here were built into a long, steep cliff, some of them up to 3 to 4 stories! You could see petroglyphs along the way, and it was fun spotting them and trying to envision how they were painted.

Long House at Bandelier National Monument
The Long House at Bandelier National Monument
Petroglyphs at the Long House

Conquering the Alcove House

The true highlight of our adventure awaited us at the Alcove House, perched 140 feet, or 42 meters above the canyon floor. But to reach this architectural marvel, we had to conquer four steep towering ladders, while challenging our resolve and testing our courage.

The way up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument
The way up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument

Pushing Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Even though we read that people who have a fear of heights should consider not attempting the climb, we were determined to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and reach the Alcove House!

First of four ladders that lead to the Alcove House at Bandelier
The first of four ladders that lead to the Alcove House

As we ascended the ladders, adrenaline surged through our veins, propelling us upward despite our trembling legs. With each rung, we overcame our fear of heights and embraced the exhilaration of the climb.

For us, the climb was not so much of a physical feat, but a mental challenge. With each ladder conquered, we gained confidence and an incredible appreciation for the resilience of the ancestral Puebloans who once called this cliff-dwelling home.

The Reward of Courage

Once we made it to the top, I had to sit down because my legs were shaking. It was still scary for me to go up that height. However, I was so proud that not only did I attempt the climb, but that I did it!

At the summit, we were greeted by panoramic views that took our breath away. The vantage point furthered our appreciation for the resilience of the ancient inhabitants who built their homes amidst these cliffs!

View from the Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument
The reward for our courage, the view from the Alcove House
Inside the Alcove House

Descending the Alcove House

When it was time for our descent, my was heart pounding. I repeated to myself that I can make it! After climbing down the first ladder, I knew that this was not going to be easy. I was so shaky. My shins ached from pressing them hard against the ladder for extra stability and security. And my hands burnt as the ladder and railing had become hot from the sun.

It sounds dramatic, but I was fearing for my life. I didn’t want to slip and fall. There was nothing but a very long drop-off on my right. I kept staring at my feet, focusing on the ladder, knowing that I would freeze if I looked to my right or down.

Going down felt like it took hours, but we finally made it! James was following, and I could tell by his huge smile how proud he was of me. And how happy he was that I joined him for this unforgettable experience!

Reflections and Recommendations

As we exited the last step of the Alcove House, our hearts swelled with pride at our accomplishment. We returned to the visitor center via the Main Pueblo Loop, reflecting on the profound impact of our journey.

We were in awe walking in the footsteps of Ancestral Puebloan people and took our time exploring Bandelier National Monument, admiring the petroglyphs, the views, and wondering what life was like here.

Our Advice for Visitors

Trust us, Bandelier National Monument is a place that you MUST visit! It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the highlights of our travels throughout New Mexico.

If you plan to visit Bandelier, we recommend arriving early to beat the heat and crowds. Be sure to check the weather forecast and trail conditions beforehand, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Bandelier National Monument offers a unique blend of history, adventure, and natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring ancient ruins or conquering towering cliffs, embrace the experience and cherish the memories that await you.

Conclusion

Our visit to Bandelier National Monument was incredible! Not only did it teach us more about the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, but it pushed us beyond our comfort zones, and provided us with memories that we will never forget!

Until next time, may your travels continue to be filled with wonder and discovery!

We conquered the Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument
We conquered the Alcove House at Bandelier!

Bandelier National Monument Facts

  • Bandelier National Monument and the Visitor Center are open year-round.
  • The free shuttle runs from 9 am and 3 pm daily from the White Rocks Visitor Center to the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center.
  • The shuttle takes around 25 minutes.
  • The last shuttle from the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center departs at 5 pm.
  • The shuttle runs every 30 minutes and every 20 minutes during the weekends.
  • Free parking is available at the Visitor Center. However, since there is only very limited parking, it is best to use the free shuttle bus. You can arrive before 9 am or after 3 pm with your own vehicle.
  • The entry fee into Bandelier is US $25 per car. Permits can be bought at the Visitor Center or online.
  • Most National Parks or Monuments cost between $20 to $35 each. If you are planning to visit several parks, the yearly “America the Beautiful” pass will save you money. A yearly pass for ALL US National Parks can be purchased for US $80 per car, per year. You can order the park pass online or purchase it at most National Park Visitor Centers.
  • The Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • The Main Pueblo Loop Trail is mostly flat, paved, and wheelchair- or stroller-friendly.
  • Pets are not allowed on any of the trails at the National Monument. However, you can leave your pets at the Cottonwood picnic area, the parking lot in front of the visitor center, or at Juniper Campground.
  • If you want to hike the backcountry you will need a wilderness permit. This permit is free and available at the visitor center.
  • Backcountry camping is available with a permit from the visitor center.
  • There are 2 campgrounds within the National Monument: Juniper and Ponderosa Campground.

More Facts

  • Depending on ranger availability you can join free programs about geology, plants, animals, etc.
  • Bears have been spotted in the canyon, and it is important to never feed wildlife or leave food where animals can get it. Not only is it for your own safety but for the safety of the bears and all wildlife!
  • Other residents of the canyon include rattlesnakes, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, and deer. Please respect wildlife!
  • Choose hikes that are within your ability.
  • Respect these sacred spaces. Don’t leave the path, and do NOT climb, stand, or sit on the walls or structures!
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Be aware of weather conditions.
  • LEAVE NO TRACE!!
Encounter nature at Bandelier National Monument
Encounter nature at Bandelier National Monument

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