Even after years of visiting the park, I’ve discovered that Bandelier National Monument still has pleasant surprises concealed within its boundaries. Bandelier is one of the most popular day trips out of Santa Fe, just about an hour’s drive west of town, and most visitors feel amply rewarded with an excursion to the cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon, and the pleasant walks along the little Rito de Frijoles, burbling in the shade of the singing Ponderosa pines and the warm glowing walls of the Bandelier Tuff. But the park has an extensive network of trails throughout its bounds, and some of these are easy walks that give a different perspective on the way the Ancient Ones lived – and which will reward you with some wonderful views of Frijoles Canyon and the archeological sites it shelters.
This Sunday’s adventure started near the old Amphitheater not far from the entrance to the Park. On my last visit to Bandelier I walked down the Frey Trail, which is the pre-1939 way of getting down into Frijoles Canyon, and at the brink of the descent, admired a precipice of Bandelier Tuff off to the west:
A closer look at the map showed another trail not far from this one, that actually leads to the top of this cliff. It’s called the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, and of course I immediately made a mental file to have a walk on it on my next visit to the Park. This past Sunday was a perfect opportunity for a winter hike on the sunny flanks of the Jemez Mountains, and after throwing a few things in the day pack, made the short drive west to Bandelier and the Juniper Campground just inside, where the trail begins.
Your walk begins in a grove of fragrant Ponderosa:
Much of the walk winds across the dry, sparsely wooded top of the plateau just north of Frijoles Canyon, which still shows signs of stress from our drought around 2005. There are a surprising number of archeological sites up here, with small interpretive signs to enhance your stops:
There are more modern cultural features up here too, like this rustic corral:
Distant views of the volcanic mountains that surround Bandelier lie off to the south and west:
In only 45 minutes of easy walking you reach the Overlook, perched high above the ruins of Tyuonyi Pueblo:
This is a perfect place to sit and contemplate the vast history, cultural and natural, of old New Mexico.
The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail loops back to the trailhead across the mesa so you don’t have to retrace your steps back to the Amphitheater. There are beautiful views up Frijoles Canyon:
And dizzying ones down:
Bandelier, like all National Parks and Monuments, is a wild place at heart, and evidence of the more brutal side of Nature isn’t hard to find:
Past and present mingle to thoughtful eyes. Modern pine cones holding new life lie over a bed of the Cajete Pumice that showered over the mesa perhaps only 40,000 years ago:
The return trail winds through an airy forest of Ponderosa before returning you to your car:
This was a very rewarding walk, and a perfect one for a late winter day in New Mexico when you need to get out for some sunshine and exercise, but don’t feel like facing the icy and somewhat muddy trails in Sangre de Cristo Mountains nearer Santa Fe. So be sure and put the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail on your mental list of things to do when you come visit us!