Since Los Alamos and Bandelier are so close to one another we arrived at the campground in good time even after making some stops along the way. We even had enough time to take a hike!
Something we have been doing little by little is leash training our new kitten Kara and getting her used to the great outdoors. Each day we see improvement. At first we just practiced putting on her harness at feeding times so she would associate it with something positive. Then we started bringing her outside in her safe little furry bed. Now we have graduated to having her in her harness, on her leash and either in our arms or on our shoulders. She is still not comfortable outside but she isn’t going totally bonker balls anymore either so that’s promising.
Bandelier Visitor’s Center
We packed up some bags and off we went to the visitor’s center. There is a great 2 mile trail that leads from the campground to the visitor’s center giving amazing views!
It’s always hard to know if the days we hike will be fast or slow days for the girls. Today happened to be a fast one! I think the girls missed hiking the last handful of days so falling back into the National Park/Monument routine was fun for them. They pretended they were wolves as they pranced through the tall grassy meadows at the start of the trail.
The girls found out quick that these plants looked harmless bur were actually quite pokey (as almost all plants are in the desert)! The girls would run, run, run then stop to crouch down on the trail and howl like wolves. The ground was so interesting looking as if it were made of large salt or sugar granules.
On the trail we also finally got to see a horned lizard!! They are much smaller than we all expected them to be but they are really neat looking. Justin was able to catch a good picture of it with his nice camera. Thank goodness for a zoom lens!
We also found a Mama mule deer and her little one behind some shrubbery. They really blend in so well.
Knowing nothing of the trail before taking it, we were surprised to see that all of a sudden the grassy meadow was no longer and we found ourselves walking on the rim of a canyon! It was quite stunning and quite the drop off.
From this vantage point we could see the remains of the Pueblo village down below. After looking at the dwellings from the ground as well we found that this birds eye view was the most spectacular for sure.
On our way down the many switchbacks we found really neat white rocks that were super light weight and rubbed off like white chalk on our hands; pumice from the volcano near by.
We also found a really neat green grasshopper that had just died, as the looks of it from a large pricker stuck in its side. Poor little thing! We decided to scoop him up so we could get a better look under the microscope. He was really a neat one.
The cliffs here are just breathtakingly beautiful with a Swiss cheese type of holy look. The red holy rock is actually volcanic ash that has unevenly eroded throughout the years making ideal places for the ancestral Pueblos to build their homes in. The volcanic ash which formed into this red rock is called tuff.
Once at the visitor’s center the girls and I read books while our sweet Justin jogged all the way back up the steep 2 mile trail back to the campground to snag Azul and come pick us up.
The girls and I hunkered down for what we thought would be a long reading time behind some racks of clothing where we wouldn’t be in the way. However, Justin was so quick, he arrived back to pick us up before we could even finish our chosen 4 books! The 4th book was promised for the next day and we headed back to settle down for the evening.
Main Loop Trail
For our second day we chose to do the 3-plus mile “main loop” which starts at the visitor’s center and meanders through ancient dwellings, both Pueblo style structures and cliff dwellings.
The girls armed themselves on that chilly morning with self made torches and led the way.
The first cliff dwelling we came to was one of our favorites. After climbing a wooden ladder we entered an amazing carved out cave with a fire pit hole in the center and black soot telling the the tail of long ago.
We chose here to have our morning snack in and agreed that would be a perfect place for a fort but would be hard to live in. It was a place to sit or lay but not tall enough to stand even for little ones.
The dwelling was shadowed in such a way that people coming up the ladder couldn’t see that we were in there until they were nearly at the top rung. We thought better of yelling “Boo!’ when they reached the top for fear they would fall down but we did be sure to stay quiet so they would be surprised to see us all in there.
All along the base of one of the cliffs we saw evidence of 3-5 story pueblos (“Long House”) below all the cliff dwelling caves. The wooden beams had presumably rotted out years ago but the holes in the rock they were once held in still remained. This was quite the center of activity!
There were also petroglyphs of turkeys, people, suns and so much more as well as pictographs along this cliff. There is one painting that rangers have put up plexiglass in front of to help preserve it. A colony of migratory bats live in the cave above the pictograph and the guano was landing on it deteriorating it.
There were large tour groups on the trail the morning we ventured on it so it was a little tricky trying to get either ahead or behind them but we managed.
The trail then led away from the cliffs and into more forested land where bridges took us over small streams. The girls loved playing by the streams, watching as various leaves they sent down passed under the bridge and farther down stream.
I’m not sure what kind of rock was at the bottom of the stream but it looked like tiny little bluish white sparkling pieces of diamonds were scattered along the stream bed. We also learned that cattails repel water just like a duck’s back! So neat!
We then took a spur trail to another cliff dwelling, the Alcove House, that required you to climb 4 wooden ladders up 140 ft. We were excited to see what we would find up there.
It was awesome! The path up there was so narrow you had to walk one foot in front of another. Part of the path was made of stacked stones in a staircase while other parts were just carved paths in the rock coupled with the ladders.
Thankfully there was a railing but it did little to ease my mind about our girls. They are still little enough that one trip and they could be out over the railing. I was on high alert inside but tried to stay calm on the outside so they wouldn’t be nervous. I always get clumsier when I’m trying to be extra careful and especially if I’m nervous. That’s the last thing I wanted happening to them.
The top was incredible with such an amazing view. It was a dwelling under a large overhang in the rock above. It looked like there may have once been structures built up against the back of the overhang, although the evidence wasn’t as apparent as down below at the base of the cliff. There was, however, a Kiva that had been reconstructed on what I’m assuming where there had been evidence of one having once stood.
What an incredible place to have your ceremonies in! There was the main open area and then lots of little alcoves along the sides that weren’t huge but we could stand in them.
The way down was definitely more frightening than going up! There was only one large landing at the base of one ladder but the rest of the landings were very small uneven spots with no railings which was nerve racking with the girls. We all got down just fine though.
On our way back Justin ran ahead so he could beat us to Azul to start making lunch, as it was well past lunchtime, while the girls and I lagged behind. Not long after we parted ways the girls and I spotted large scat to the side of the trail that I was sure was bear scat. FRESH bear scat at that; it was still warm. Granted it was a cold day but when I held my hand over it, it gave off heat. I’ll tell you what, that put a little giddyup in our step!! We started to sing all our Spanish songs very very loudly at a swift pace with both girls hanging onto my hands. Oh, boy!
That evening Justin offered to drive back into town to do laundry for us. No showers and no laundromat was really getting to me. Our sweet little one still has athletes foot and it’s been a month and a half! I have been diligent in changing her socks twice a day, keeping her feet dry and clean and putting her ointment on. This is no easy task with a little one and it means we are going through socks like crazy! We have changed ointments 3 times now in hopes that a different active ingredient will work (maybe it’s eczema?). This plus the girls being active in the dusty desert means we were in desperate need for clean laundry. Unfortunately Justin couldn’t take a shower for us while he was in town so sink showers had to do until we hit our next RV park.
We decided we were due some down days. The girls needed some play time, Justin needed time to catch up on the blog and I needed to to get better. I have been sick with who knows what for a month. It started as a cold but when we changed altitudes it became a sinus infection that took turns in my ears and in my chest. My nose is still bleeding but this first down day was the first day I felt even slightly stable. Every day before I kept thinking, “I feel more sick than the day before.”
The girls had SO much fun painting, getting ready for halloween and crafting. Our oldest had fun making a little fact sheet about animals and both girls enjoyed playing with their figurines and dolls in and outside. It’s so nice to see them playing nicely with one another and having fun!
We took the time to make pancakes for lunch as a treat for our down day. We even got in a game of Go Fish! There was lots of kitty time as well of course.
Our oldest one has a tooth that is so very close to coming out!! It’s so loose I wonder if she’s going to accidentally swallow it! I think one pull and it will be out. The tooth fairy is armed and ready.
Jr Ranger books and pledges and hours of reading in the bookstore complete. Check and check! We literally spent over two hours total reading in their gift shop hidden behind coat racks. It wasn’t a comfortable place to read but man, they had the best gift store book selection we have seen yet! That’s saying a lot as we have seen a lot of gift shops in our travels thus far. There were still at least a dozen we still wanted to read! So much to read and so little time.
On a side note, I was bitten by a fire ant on my wrist. I understand now why they are called fire ants!! Their bites really do a number! For the first 10 hours or so it felt as if I had reached into the oven and burned my wrist. I think almost everyone has experienced the feeling I’m talking about. Then, it started throbbing and burning like actual fire. It started where I was bitten then moved into my lower arm and into my upper arm. By the time the burning started moving up my arm I started to get more concerned. I ended up taking an Ibuprofen and a dose of Benadryl and that seemed to do the trick. Within the hour the pain had gone down and the discomfort was centralized in only my wrist once again. The next day I felt nothing but then 2 days following the bite site was extremely itchy. Now being 4 days after I was bit it is still periodically itchy and painful. The odd thing was that the bite site hardly looked like anything at all. Nothing more than a slightly red freckle like speck and a little more pink around the bite. I tell you, the looks certainly did not match the feeling. Such a hard punch for such a little creature!
Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites
There is a separate section of Bandalier that we checked out on the day we visited Valles Caldera. This hike was one of my favorites. Partly because there were a lot less people on the trail than there had been on the main loop trail from the visitor’s center and also because of how many caveats, ladders and other Pueblo history there was along the way.
The trail first followed the edge of a cliff after going up a wooden ladder. The edge of the cliff was so geometric and straight it looked as if someone had cut the edges with a giant knife to form the steep straight slabs of tuff. We found the ladders on this trail to be sturdy enough to hold us for sure but definitely not as strong and sturdy as the ladders had been on the main loop trail. If I were 250lbs I would have my doubts about some of the rungs for sure.
The trail then led us up into the pumice rocks of the rocky hillside. Because pumice is such a delicate rock the trail was warn into the rocks themselves. It was incredibly beautiful and so neat to walk on. At times the eroded trail was only a shoe width wide and up to our waists. I’m sure the water follows these trails as well now creating even deeper grooves in the pumice.
Along the trail we discovered many sites where there were ancient Pueblo petroglyphs. I was surprised that they were so well intact as this rock erodes much faster than others. I also was surprised that they had not been vandalized being so close to the path with no indication that they were there. What a mean by that is there were no ropes or signage. So neat to see history like that.
Our littlest one found a piece of what looked to be a clay pot with black ink on it just as the Pueblo’s created. There were signs that said to leave all artifacts where you found them, so, we did. But, it was really neat to see it up close.
We found a series of really neat caveats along the trail as well. Some were even tall enough inside for us to stand. All had the tell tail black soot from their ancient fires on the ceilings of the caves and most also had little alcoves carved into them where things were once stored.
One caveat was even attached to a pueblo once as we saw the evidence of wooden beam holes in the rock connecting the two. What an amazing spot! Inside there was a bouquet of roses someone must have left, I was guessing in honor or remembrance of their ancestors.
Other caveats had little steps warn into the side of the steep rock where so many feet had been before us. It just made history that much easier to imagine. For hundreds of years these same steps were being taken. Boy, if rocks could talk!
It was such a neat hike! I would certainly recommend it to anyone in the area.
For our last evening at the campground the girls enjoyed playing house and school in the bear box our site provided. They found out that they could lock themselves inside the box and use a safety lever inside to free themselves when they wanted to get out. Smart thinking rangers!
We also indulged in having marshmallows over a campfire. Yum!