There was little excitement today and nothing spectacular to report. We loafed, or rested, all morning before heading out to Bandelier National Monument around 11:30 AM. The park is actually closed to traffic and you have to park in White Rock and take a 10 minute shuttle ride into the park, probably the way it should be done in most national parks and monuments. There is a shuttle every 20 minutes but we got lucky and one was waiting for us. We parked, boarded the shuttle, and it pulled off as soon as we were seated.
On the short drive to Bandelier we passed the employee entrance to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was developed in WWII. The second day in a row now in which we have encountered something to do with nuclear energy! Coincidence? Let's not go down that road today.
The shuttle let us out in front of the Visitors' Center where we were met by a volunteer who told us a little about the place, where things were (particularly the bath rooms), and what we would see. She told us that last year a wild fire in the Frijole Valley of Bandelier National Monument burned most of the vegetation away from the banks of Frijole Creek and this year a tremendous rain storm caused a severe flash flood which took out some bridges in the park, hence the shuttle. We were cautioned that if it looked like rain and we heard a loud rumbling noise we should move away from the creek! No such excitement for us. It was sunny all day long.
I showed my “Golden Age Passport” (lifetime admission permit to national parks and monuments) and we entered the visitors’ center and had a seat in a small theater where we watched a short video presentation about Bandelier. Ranger Mark took a group of us on a very informative guided tour after the video.
People have lived in this valley off and on for the past 10,000 years. The early people were nomadic hunter/gatherers, following the game and erecting no permanent shelters. Eventually people began to grow crops and had to stay in one place. They erected shelters of wood and mud and hung up their "Home, Sweet Home" signs. The earliest dwellings were called “Pit Houses” because they were largely underground (or perhaps because they were the pits).
About 600 years ago the first of several pueblos was constructed. These were one and two story circular structures containing hundreds of small rooms, maybe 50 square feet each. They were used for sleeping and storing food. On the inside of the circle was an open plaza were the people worked and socialized. The circular building had no outside windows and only one way in or out, which afforded protection from intruders, man or animal.
We saw the remains of the largest pueblo in the valley, the Tyuani Pueblo, which contained approximately 400 rooms for around 100 inhabitants. It is unknown whether the inhabitants of a pueblo were all of the same family or not. There were many such pueblos throughout the area and several languages were represented. There are also cliff dwellings and caves that were inhabited at the time that the pueblos were booming in the valley. This is more evidence of a diverse group of people. However, everyone seems to have gotten along together as there is no evidence of violence or wars.
We elected to forgo the portion of the tour that required climbing 150 feet on 3 different wooden ladders (made from the local juniper trees) for a closer look at some of the cliff dwellings. We've been to Mesa Verde so it was no big deal.
For some unknown reason the valley was abandoned about 600 years ago after about 150 years of continuous habitation. It could have been abandoned because of depleted resources, less game as more land was cleared for crops, or a multi-year drought resulting in repetitive crop failures. It is known that most of the people who left went south and many of their descendants live around El Paso, TX. This was approximately 100 years before the Spanish “discovered” the valley in 1545.
The ancient people who once inhabited the valley are called the Ancestral Pueblo People. They were once called Anasazi, a word from the Navaho language that translates roughly into “ancient enemies”. This term is no longer used as it is considered politically incorrect by their descendants who still live in the area.
We left Bandelier a little after 3 PM, hot and tired. When we got back to the car we cranked the A/C down as cold as it would go and headed back to Santa Fe. The car seat was hot and my backside became sticky with sweat. That’s when I remembered one of the greatest options ever to be offered in a new automobile! The front seats are AIR CONDITIONED! We turned them on and were immediately rewarded with cold air seeping through the small pinholes in the seats. It felt so good.
Now, you might consider such an option to be somewhat extravagant, or perhaps of little use. That is not true. We special ordered our Chevy Traverse LTZ with every option available (paid $400 over dealer invoice, which I think was a very good deal) and are glad that we did. So, don’t buy a Lincoln or Cadillac. Go buy yourself a Ford or Chevy with every option available for less money and enjoy your air-conditioned seats when you are driving in the American Southwest.