Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bandelier National Monument

Last week I took my annual vacation in New Mexico, stayed in Albuquerque, and visited several fascinating sites.  One was Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos.  There's plenty of information about it at and some good downloadable publications at Also, Adolph Bandelier's books about Pueblo Indians are available in several e-book formats on  
     Pueblo Indians occupied the Frijole Creek valley up to 1550 AD, and then migrated to the Cochiti and San Ildefonso Pueblos.  The probable cause of migration was extended drought.  In this valley is Tyuonyi,  a large circular pueblo ruin with a kiva.  The walls had no doors, since entry to the rooms was through the roof.
The nearby cliffs are of soft volcanic rock, and are riddled with small caveates that were dug out and used as dwellings.
Some of them may be entered using ladders.   Inside one caveate is a dome-shaped room about 6.5 feet high at the center and 10 feet in diameter.  The gouge marks are still visible in the smoke-stained ceiling.
Stone houses were built against long sections of the cliff, and the caveates were the back rooms. The small holes in the cliff wall held the logs that formed roofs and floors.
As I approached this cliff, I noticed three propped boulders along the trail.
One or two propped boulders might be a coincidence, but the ones in the above photo seem to be deliberately propped and facing southeast.  There are other stone structures along the trails.
     This is the famous Alcove House site, previously known as Ceremonial Cave.  It contains a reconstructed kiva, and the caveates and log holes from old dwellings.  Access is a 140-foot climb up four long ladders, definitely not for those afraid of heights.

At the mouth of the cave  are two squarish boulders facing directly west.

These definitely look like they were placed this way. I'll see if I can find anything about them in Bandelier's books.
     On the way back, I spotted this bent tree about 300 feet from Alcove House.  The bend points towards Alcove House.  500 feet further is this slope with rocks and a possible cairn. These rocks are all about the same size and shape.
On top of this slope, 150 feet beyond the cairn, is this propped boulder with an oddly gouged surface.  The slope faces southwest over Frijoles Creek.

So, who propped these boulders?  I  don't imagine these have been standing since 1550, or they would have been buried over time or disturbed by excavations.  The  Pueblo Indians consider these ruins to be sacred, so maybe they placed them more recently.


  1. It is great having the training of an eastern set of eyes.

  2. I was at Bandelier with my wife on May 13, just a few days before your visit. We stayed in the valley and just looked up at the people trying to negotiate the ladders to the Alcove House site. Stuff like that is now beyond my capabilities. We also visited Santa Fe, Taos, Mesa Verde and Hovenweep.