We departed the base at 7:30ish this morning, just a half hour behind schedule. Our first destination was Bandelier National Monument, which is located near the town of Los Alamos.
Our drive took us west through Taos, and it was very scenic, as we climbed up and down the mountains. Once we hit Taos, and headed south, the drive flattened out considerably. Highway 68 south out of Taos runs right along the Rio Grande River. We stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center and got some great views of the river. While taking pictures, we noticed a teenager wearing a Josh’s Sno Cone t-shirt. We asked him if it was the Josh’s Sno Cone stand in Tulsa and he said, “Yes”. He had received the t-shirt as a gift since he is a regular customer. It just so happens that Josh’s is our favorite place to get sno cones in Tulsa (we frequent the 71st & Garnett location!).
We arrived at Bandelier at about 10:30. We had originally guessed we would need about 3 hours to do everything we wanted. That turned out to be an optimistic guess.
The Bandelier National Monument, established in 1916, is named for Adolph Bandelier. He is the first white man to explore and document the ancient Pueblo settlements in the Frijoles Canyon. Large, dense settlements of Pueblo in the canyon started in the mid-1200s and continued until the late 1400s. What makes this settlement so interesting is the fact that the Pueblo built their homes right into the rock wall.
Fourteen miles from Bandelier, there were two violent volcanic eruptions more than 1 million years ago. Each of the eruptions was six hundred times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens! The volcano ejected enough material to cover this four hundred square mile area with a layer of volcanic ash up to one thousand feet thick. The walls of Frijoles Canyon are made of volcanic ash that has compacted over time into a soft, crumbly rock called tuff. (Miles was very amused that such a soft rock would be called “tuff”.) This rock is easily eroded, and formed small natural openings in the cliff face.
The Pueblo also drew petroglyphs (designs or symbols carved into the rock) on the canyon walls. We were able to identify a turkey, a dog, and a macaw (parrot). The Pueblo used turkeys primarily for the feathers, which they used in blankets. The presence of the macaw is an indication that the Pueblo were trading with other Indian tribes in Mexico at this time.
Bandelier offers a 1.2 mile walk through the valley and up near the canyon walls. The National Park Service has reconstructed several of the cave dwellings and you can actually climb a ladder into several of the dwellings. The kids enjoyed that immensely.
The Park also offers an extended hike of 1 more mile that takes you to a cave dwelling 140 feet above the canyon floor named Alcove House. Steph and the kids and I decided to take the hike to Alcove House and the rest of the party went for a drive to go see the volcanos. The Alcove House was well worth our trip. To get to the top, you had to climb 4 different ladders that were 20 to 30 feet tall. Marissa, who turns 5 in a few weeks, was a real trooper and did a great job. This was a huge surprise after our first 10 foot ladder we got on earlier in the tour, as we could barely get her down the ladder. However, she got the hang of working the ladders, and would run excitedly to the next one as we moved along on our tour. Our mile walk back to the visitor center was very peaceful. We passed only a few other hikers, and we were able to be surrounded by the sights and smells of nature, like the smell of the towering pine trees and the sound of the brook as it snaked its way through the canyon.
Over the past few years, as we have started to visit a few National Parks, the kids have been participating in their Junior Ranger program. It is a educational and interesting way for kids of all ages to learn more about that particular park. Generally, when you arrive at the park, you ask the Park Ranger for the materials, and the kids answer questions about the park, based on tours of the grounds, a visit to the museum or a short movie. Not only did the kids participate in the Junior Ranger program at this park, but also Stephanie and I got to participate in the Deputy Ranger program. This was the first time we had ever seen that. We all passed with flying colors, and I might even show you my patch if you ask. The Park Ranger sat down with each of us individually at the lodge and went over all of our questions and answers from our Ranger questionnaire. The Park Ranger, Theresa Ferraro, was super friendly and was great with the kids.
The Bandelier area did not have any roads or facilities until the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) got to work. The CCC was a depression-era government program to provide employment for able-bodied men, and build useful and service-minded facilities. As a matter of fact, we read that the Bandelier National Monument contains more buildings and furnishings that were created by the CCC, than any other location in the U.S. The lodge, gift shop, and employee housing were all of the adobe style and still looked great after all these years.
We left the park at 5:30 after spending 7 hours there! As we drove down the road toward the park exit, the rain began to fall again. As we climbed in altitude, we saw snow on the roadside, just like yesterday. Again, we missed the snow just by a few minutes.
While we were checking out the Alcove House, PK, KK, Scott and Erin were searching for the volcano. They were off-roading, following some directions that somebody knowledgeable had provided them, but they never could find what they were looking for. (How do you hide a volcano?) As they were about to turn back, they realized (through the use of their GPS) that the unpaved road they were on would take them all the way to Sante Fe. They decided to “take the scenic route” and took the gravel road, otherwise known as “Indian Service Route 90”. This road was described as death-defying, entertaining, and “scary as hell”. As PK was telling me about the trip, she said that “we went to heaven on the road to hell!”. This was a winding, rock road built right into the side of the mountains. Many times, they would have one wheel up against the mountain, and looking out the window of the passenger side they could only see straight down the mountain. To put it mildly, they emphatically said that this route was not recommended!
We arrived in Sante Fe about 6:30 and made a beeline for the state capital building. Miles was very interested in seeing this. We located the capital building after some searching. The New Mexico capital building does not have a dome, and is a round building. It is nicknamed the “round house”. Miles, Mallory and I were able to go inside for 5 minutes before it closed. The bottom floor was filled with New Mexico artwork and quilts depicting New Mexico life.
Next, we headed to the Plaza, which is surrounded by swanky shops. But there was no time to shop, as we were famished. We picked out a family restaurant on the Plaza called the Plaza Café. The restaurant has been in existence for over 100 years, and is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Sante Fe. The service was poor, but the food was good, and it was very busy. We all got dessert after dinner, including Key Lime pie, chocolate cake, apple pie and ice cream. There was a lot of sharing going on!
Sante Fe seemed like a place we would like to go back and spend more time at. We did not even scratch the surface of the town, but we liked the open outdoor seating we saw at many of the restaurants and the interesting shops.
We departed Sante Fe at 9:30 and pulled back into Elizabethtown around 11:30.