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Bandelier National Monument should be a no-brainer if you are visiting Santa Fe, NM. It makes for an easy, relaxed full day trip from Santa Fe with a picnic lunch and some hiking, or can be combined into a half day trip with a visit to Los Alamos, NM.
The area around Bandelier National Monument has a history of human habitation that goes back for over 10,000 years. During my visit, the lives of prehistoric pueblo dwellers unfolded before my imagination. I could envision the ruins along the canyon floor as the central hub of the community, with spaces for gathering, trading and worship.
Individual dwellings lined the canyon walls. Each one had a front area made out of bricks to contain the activities of daily life as well as a more secure sleeping area up above, carved into the soft stone of the canyon wall.
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Many of the cliff dwellings had ladders, allowing you to climb up and inside to get a feeling for what it was like to live in one. I thought that they could feel somewhat claustrophobic, but to my surprise, I liked the feeling of security that they had, and the view down the canyon from your secure nook was incredible.
The monument has a stellar one mile loop trail to show you the best highlights of the park, which makes a great afternoon with picnic lunch. If you are feeling more ambitious, there are a number of longer adventures that you can set forth on from the visitor center.
TIP: Do splurge for the extra couple dollars for the interpretive guide if you are going to hike the one mile long main loop trail (which I highly recommend…it gave me a great, concise overview of the history and most impressive sites at the monument). The guide really helped bring the ancient dwellings to life and it really did enhance the experience.
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