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Bandelier didn't carry bandoleers
A relatively short walk will take you through the heart of this ancient landscape, a cultural center occupied between 1150 and 1550, when most of the residents left the Frijoles Canyon area to move down into the modern Rio Grande pueblos. The hike starts behind the Visitor's Center, and there are numbered markers along the trail. Pick up a guide for the trail in the Visitor's Center for a nominal fee, or get it from HAZ for free before you go. The trail heads west initially, following the north canyon wall. After passing stops 1, 2, and 3, the Nature Trail branches off to the left, while the Main Loop Trail continues to the right.
Not long after passing the Nature Trail you come to the first significant ruin along the Main Loop Trail, the Big Kiva. The Big Kiva is on your left and while uncovered today, during the time that the canyon was occupied the Big Kiva had taller walls made of stone and logs, as well as a roof. It probably looked similar to the circular kivas in use today at some of the Rio Grande pueblos such as San Felipe. In function it was also probably similar to the San Felipe kivas as well, serving both as a communal meeting place and a ceremonial center.
Just west of the Big Kiva is the large excavated and stabilized pueblo of Tyuonyi (pronounced Qu-weh-nee). This large pueblo once stood over two stories tall with over 400 rooms. Its floorplan is unusual among prehistoric pueblos in that it is round, while most modern, historic, and prehistoric pueblos were T, square, or rectangular shaped. The purpose of this design is unknown and many research questions that could be answered from it are impossible now due to early attempts at rebuilding, excavation, and stabilization. It is known, however, that despite having over 400 rooms, relatively few were used for living. Rather most were devoted to storage of foodstuffs and as turkey pens. In this Tyuonyi resembles most prehistoric pueblos which had a large portion of their rooms devoted to storage of crops - an important consideration when what you harvested in the fall had to last all through the winter into spring! Tyuonyi is probably the most well-known of the ruins at Bandelier, and certainly the most photographed - it's circular outline on the grassy canyon floor with snow or changing leaves from the wash nearby certainly create a very beautiful scene.
After leaving Tyuonyi the trail bends to the north, and stops 10-17 are in the area known as the "cliff dwellings." While most travelers to the southwest think of cliff dwellings as ruins found in areas like Mesa Verde and Navajo National Monument, large pueblos built into gaping alcoves in sandstone cliffs. In Bandelier, things were different. The canyon walls and the plateau surrounding it are made of volcanic tuff, a light, crumbly volcanic rock, the result of the ancient volcano that created the modern Jemez Mountains and cauldera, which Frijoles Canyon drains the slope of. This rock created both a problem and a solution for the ancient pueblo people. It was difficult to find hard rocks that would last for constructing a pueblo on the canyon floor. On the other hand, since the rock was easily carved, even with stone tools, it was possible to create living and storage spaces in the cliff as needed. These small, man-made caves called cavates, were carved into the cliff and often fronted with free-standing masonry structures. Some of these have been reconstructed along the front of the cavates, allowing you to get an idea of what daily life might have been like within the community. Some aspects, such as front-entry doors, are now known to not be accurate since the site was reconstructed in the 1920's. However the overall character of the village remains. Look into the cavates and see the smoke-blackened ceilings. The walls would have been painted with plaster, and the smoke would have served to help harden the crumbling tuff. In some cavates the residents carved petroglyphs into the soft rock. Please be careful when in and around these dwellings - the tuff is still soft and any missteps could cause futher erosion of this fragile site.
Moving down the trail you come to Long House, a massive three to four story village built up against and into the cliff face, just like Talus House. With an estimated 700 people living in the canyon by the end of the 1400's, it is easy to imagine this large dwelling full of people, children running around, women grinding corn and making pots, men weaving or going to the kivas build into the cliff walls. Up and down Frijoles Canyon, from the twin waterfalls downstream of the modern Visitor's Center up to the spring near the head of the canyon, it was a bustling settlement, with fully three times more people living in this one canyon than on the surrounding mesas. After 450 years of continuous occupation, the villages were slowly left behind as more and more of its residents moved down to the modern pueblos along the Rio Grande. Although empty, the villages of Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier were not forgotten. During the Spanish occupation, some refugee Puebloans may have taken shelter in some of these ancient sites, and modern Puebloans from several different villages return to this area to make pilgrimages and a keep the stories they carried from this place alive in their traditions.
This marks the end of the trail, but you can loop back to the Visitor's Center by heading down towards the creek on the Nature Trail and following it back to the center.
There is no water along this trail, fill up your water bottles at the Visitor's Center. After a winter storm this trail may be closed temporarily while park crews work to remove the snowfall along the trail. In winter the Nature Trail is not recommended as it tends to become icy, whereas the Main Loop Trail is south-facing and unshaded, inhibiting ice buildup.
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