Its a long story how I landed in Bandelier but I basically piggybacked this trek on top of a work activity after seeing signage for the park many times while en route to Los Alamos. I was curious to try out my new trekking pack on some elevation changes which are not available locally in Houston, this trek definitely suited that purpose.
The park itself contains a short 3-mile loop, The Monument Loop, taking you through the National Monument; remnants of the Native American culture that existed long ago. There are kivas which you can explore. That is, if you aren’t prone to vertigo while climbing the four sets of ladders to get to them. There are also some nicely intact structures they used for storage, cooking, worship, etc.; these are all very interesting from the ground but I liked the view of these after hiking upwards. The Monument Loop is very well-maintained and very easy to follow; I highly recommend walking this one first.
Aside from the Monument Loop there are a large number of back-country trails you can explore. Back-country trails are not all in good condition thanks to a massive flash flood a few years back and a series of fires. If you decide to explore these you’ll definitely want to have a sit down with one of the onsite rangers and of course, pick up a topo map at the entrance. I did three of the back-country trails, my favourites being the Upper and Lower Falls Trails, which are offshoots of the Monument Loop. There were several spots along the trail where the trail just ended, obviously having been washed out by the floods. You can pick up the trail again in less that 1/4 mile but this is when you’ll need the topo map.
The Monument Loop is easy, even climbing the 4 sets of kiva ladders is not very challenging unless, of course, you have a fear of heights.
The back-country trails are medium difficulty since you have to navigate on your own in spots and this is where you’ll need to pay a little more attention to surroundings. By that I mean both being able to navigate without a well-defined trail and to not accidentally step on a rattlesnake. I did see one little guy sunning himself in the distance half-way through the Lower Falls Trail. He gave me the obligatory rattle to say ‘Hey you, you’re a little too close!’, I stopped, since really I was a visitor in his neighbourhood, then he moved along into the rocky cliffs. Other than that, the elevation changes are gentle and the trail-less spots are still very navigable.
Its really up to you. The Monument Loop is about a 3-mile return. If you do the kiva ladder climb and explore you’re probably looking at a 2-3 hours. If you wander off to the back-country trails it could be the better part of a day. It took me 8 hours to do the Monument loop and 3 of the back country trails.
For the Monument Loop, you don’t need anything more than tennis shoes, sunscreen and water. There are a few stream crossings on the Monument Loop but the water is shallow (< 1 ft) and there are hopscotch rocks across.
For the Falls Trails, you’ll need more substantial footwear, like hiking shoes or boots, since there are spots of loose rock and you have to navigate around downed trees and a number of jagged, uneven surfaces. If you do more than just the Monument Loop you’ll probably want to pack a few snacks and extra water if you don’t carry a method of water treatment. Its extraordinarily dry here. And the sun is oppressively strong even when the temps are in the 70s.
There is a cafe and small store onsite if you forget to bring water, snacks, sunscreen. etc. Or if you want to sit down and have a green chili cheeseburger and a cup of pinon coffee. If you buy a New Mexico coffee mug you can get free drink refills – for life.
The entrance fees are going up in 2016 but if you’re like most people and you drive there, park, then do your trekking, its $10 to enter the parking area. There are different fees if you are on foot or if you want a multi-day pass or if you are camping.
A special note about parking. A fellow trekker had told me to get to Bandelier before 9am. Dual purpose advice. The first purpose is to avoid the late afternoon sun, which is brutal at this elevation. The second is after 9a you cannot park at Bandelier proper, you park downstream at a shuttle stop and they bus you in and out of the park. I’m not sure why but if you don’t want to wait for the shuttle coming and going, better to arrive before 9a. If you do so, you can safely ignore all of the cautionary signs warning you to turn around and park at the shuttle area.