BANDELIER FROM ABOVE: THE FREY TRAIL
You would think, after all the hiking I’ve done around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico over the years, that I would have discovered this overlooked gem long ago. But it took a last-minute change of plans, leading me to an unpromising trailhead on the arid uplands of the Pajarito Plateau, to put me on its track.
On a recent Sunday, with splendid weather, I decided it was a perfect day for a drive to Bandelier National Monument and a walk along the Rito de Frijoles under the Ponderosas. Unsurprisingly, I was not the only person to have this idea, and while the drive to the park entrance was swift and uneventful, a little sign at the ranger’s booth let me know there would be at least a 20-minute wait in the canyon below, to find a place to park. This is extremely unusual. Plan B formed swiftly in my mind. I knew there was a little-used trail that leaves from the campground above Frijoles Canyon, called the Frey Trail, that winds its way to the canyon rim, but I’d never walked it. Now was an as good opportunity as any.
As I suspected, there was almost nobody parked at the trailhead. A dusty and unpromising path led off to the south:
Although the temperatures were mild today, the sunlight was intense, and I could imagine calling this the “Fry” Trail in June. But there were promising vistas above the pinyon and juniper:
It was certainly an easy walk. From time to time the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s was evident:
And then I reached the rim of Frijoles Canyon, and discovered what I’d been missing all these years:
Amazing views of the ruins on the floor of the canyon, which I’d only walked past before, opened up from a raven’s eye perspective:
I could survey the heart of the canyon from my perch:
Below me a few other hikers traversed the lower switchbacks, pausing along the monumental stonework built by the CCC to take in the view:
I walked down as far as that clump of Ponderosa pines you can see above, and had a light lunch in their shade, gazing happily out over the canyon floor and the visitors walking along the paved paths to the cliff dwellings. Afterward, I wound my way back up the switchbacks and walked back to my car, meeting no one else along the way. Which is remarkable in itself in such a popular place, on a beautiful weekend.
I can’t recommend this walk highly enough. It’s only about a mile and a half hike from the trailhead at the Amphitheater in Juniper Campground down to the ruins at the floor of the canyon, and the switchbacks have been carefully constructed to make the descent – or should I say, ascent – relatively painless. Perhaps there’s a reason for the unusual beauty of this trail. Up until 1934, this was the only way into Frijoles Canyon and its wonders. And that’s reason enough, in my mind, to make the walk and relive the adventures of those early travelers, seeing the canyon as they saw it, back when the first parks and monuments – America’s Best Idea – were being conceived.
Book Your Next Stay at Inn on the Alameda
Our Updated Health and Safety Standards The Inn on the Alameda will implement the “Safe Stay” guidelines recommended by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, in conjunction with public health experts and recommendations from the U.S....
With more than 250 art galleries, art lovers visiting Santa Fe have a wealth of choices to view and purchase art from local and internationally renowned artists. It’s no wonder that Santa Fe was designated as a UNESCO Creative City in 2005. The suggestions below...
Fall foliage is spectacular in New Mexico – and Santa Fe is no exception. Residents and visitors alike can take a respite from busy city life to enjoy natural beauty just a short distance away. Many hiking trails in the region can be challenging even to experienced...
With so much to see and do, it’s difficult to limit an itinerary for a visit to Santa Fe. But no visit would be complete without spending time in at least one of the city’s outstanding museums, many of which showcase the region’s unique blend of history and cultural...