Things to do in Santa Fe: Ancient Cliff Dwellings in Bandelier National Monument

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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.

Bandelier New Mexico Cliff Dwelling 3

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.

Bandelier New Mexico Cliff Dwelling 1

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.

Bandelier New Mexico Cliff Dwelling 2

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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