When I saw on my syllabus the word “Bandelier” for today’s schedule, I had no idea what it implied. But I packed my lunch, hopped in the van and enjoyed being chauffeured by my plant biology professor, Dr. Ubelaker, through the incredible New Mexican landscape. When he explained to us that Bandelier is similar to Mesa Verde, but significantly closer to where we are staying, I was delighted! This is the best science class ever. Lab hour = field trip!!
The sheer height and pocketed personality of the cliffs struck awe into me as I stepped out of the van; carved into the volcanic tuff of the cliffs opposite the Jemez Mountains are the ancient dwellings of the Anasazi people.
From approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE, the pueblo people made their home in this valley. They would have farmed corn, beans, and squash, gathered native plants, and hunted game for food. But eventually, with the help of severe drought, the land could no longer support life and the peoples were forced to move.
What remain today are the ruins of that former life, first seen by Adolph F.A. Bandelier in 1880, and established as a national monument in 1916 (you can find more information here).
The park has about a three-and-a-half mile trail that takes visitors through the valley and up and through the cliff structures. On the ground are the ruins of the pueblo walls where some of the tribes would have lived as well as kivas, or larger structures where important decisions would have been made by the pueblo people.
In the middle of every kiva is a “sipapu,” or a sacred hole in the ground that, according to ancient beliefs, connects the people to the worlds below, where the spirits of all living things exist together. The world we live in is the fourth world, and the sipapus lead to the third, second, and first worlds, where ultimately all life returns to be born again.
Walking through the park, these details of history come to life, and I found myself imagining the people, and how crazy it is that they actually really did walk and live and breathe in this place so long ago.
Part of the trail leads visitors up into the cliffs. There are a few ladders that people can climb to get closer to the rooms themselves, and at the end of the trail, there is a series of five ladders leading up 140 feet from the forest floor to a kiva built at the very top of the cliffs. The fact that the original inhabitants would have climbed the steep rock without any help from ladders, built-in steps and railings is an incredible feat.
The beauty of these dwellings, etched into the vast majesty of the cliffs themselves, will never be fully captured by any picture. But this fact did not keep me from trying! I took somewhere around 100 pictures during this trip.
Bandelier National Monument is gorgeous, and the scope of it is breathtaking. Perhaps, as all New Mexico license plates say, this state truly is the Land of Enchantment.