Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bandelier Main Loop Trail

Bandelier National Monument is located on New Mexico Route 4 near Los Alamos in northwest New Mexico. There are 70 miles of trails at Bandelier but the one to start with is the Main Loop Archaeology Trail that begins at the Visitor Center.

The Main Loop Trail is 1.2 miles to the large Tyuonyi Ancestral Pueblo ruins site and associated cliff dwellings. There is a $1.00 printed trail for the 21 stops along the trail. At the far end of the loop there is a 1 mile round trip option to continue to Alcove House. The first segment of trail follows Frijoles Creek with the steep canyon walls and Ponderosa Pines looming overhead. The canyon walls are composed of compacted volcanic ash from the eruptions of Jemez Volcano more than one million years ago.

Stop No. 4 is at a large circular Kiva. The trail guide points out that there is an inner layer of stones shows finer stonework indicating that the structure may have been rebuilt.

The Tyuonyi is only one of several large pueblos within Bandelier. This site has about 400 rooms and housed 100 people. Tree ring dating shows that construction here began more than 600 years ago, roughly around 1350 AD. This date would be after the time that the Ancestral Pueblo sites at Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado were abandoned.

Some think that Frijoles Canyon was the dividing line between two language groups. Tewa speakers live to the north and Keres speakers live to the south. The name Tyuonyi may mean a place of meeting. There are three kivas in the plaza area of the pueblo, one that has been excavated and visible at stop No. 8.

As the trail climbs to the cliff dwellings, there are good overall views of the pueblo site. The original rooms were one or two stories. Many of the rooms were for storage of food.

The soft rock in the cliff face has some natural cavities that were enlarged to create more living space. In front of the cavities, stone structures were built. One has been rebuilt to show how these might have looked.

The last segment of the interpretive trail passes by Long House. Holes in the cliff face show how high the structures were along here. By the early 1400s forty percent of the Bandelier population was located in Frijoles Canyon. In the late 1400s more than 500 people lived in this canyon area. Walkingstick Cholla is one of the common plants in the canyon area. 

The cliff face in the Long House segment has many petroglyph images to find. Another feature in this area is a bat cave. Mexican free-tailed bats and brown bats live here from mid May to mid September.

From here, the trail loops back along Frijoles Creek. At the creek the side trail to Alcove House continues north for 0.5 miles. The return loop has some interpretive signs discussing the plants and animals found here.  (Separate Post on Alcove House.)

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