Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bandelier National Monument: Main Loop Trail (Blog Hike #478)

Trail: Main Loop Trail
Hike Location: Bandelier National Monument
Geographic Location: southwest of White Rock, NM
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A partially paved loop past Pueblo and cliff dwelling ruins.

Directions to the trailhead: For most people, the Frijoles Canyon portion of Bandelier National Monument, where this hike is located, is only accessible via a free shuttle bus.  The bus departs every 20 minutes from the White Rock Visitor Center in the town of White Rock.  The Visitor Center is located on SR 4 in downtown White Rock; the address is 115 New Mexico State Road 4.

The hike: For my general comments on Bandelier National Monument, see the previous hike.  This hike explores some of the pueblo and cliff dwelling ruins that lie near the Visitor Center.  This trail is named the Main Loop Trail for a reason: most of the 150,000 annual visitors will hike this trail at some point during their visit.  Thus, to avoid the crowds you might want to hike one of the monument’s other trails first and then hike this one so that your hike does not coincide with a shuttle bus arrival.
Information board at trailhead
            The trail starts at an information board just outside the back door of the Visitor Center.  The first 0.25 miles of this trail are paved and ADA-accessible.  Notice some sand on and beside the trail; this sand was deposited here by the 2011 and more recent flash floods.  Numbered posts coincide with a trail guide available for purchase at the Visitor Center.
            Just shy of 0.2 miles, you pass a kiva.  A kiva is an underground chamber used by the Ancestral Pueblo for ceremonial purposes.  This kiva has been un-roofed so that visitors can easily see inside.  Entry into the kiva, however, is prohibited.
            At 0.3 miles, you reach the main pueblo ruins.  The Ancestral Pueblo people called this village Tyuonyi (pronounced QU-weh-nee).  In its heyday, Tyuonyi stood 1 to 2 stories high and housed about 100 people.  The trail winds around the low rock wall ruins, allowing you to study the site up-close.
            Past the ruins, a short-cut trail exits left while this hike angles right.  Your next destination is the cliff dwellings that you can see uphill to the left.  After briefly heading up a narrow side canyon, the trail climbs using concrete steps with a metal railing.  Notice some holes in the easily eroded pink tuff rock on your right as you climb.  The tuff’s ease of carving is one reason this canyon made an ideal location for constructing cliff dwellings.
            At the top of the steps, you reach the cliff dwellings.  Some ladders allow visitors to access holes that served as primitive houses, and some more developed cliff houses lie just ahead.  These cliff dwellings bear such a striking resemblance to those at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado that many experts think they were built by the same group of people at different times in their migratory history.  This spot also gives nice views of Frijoles Creek, now almost 100 feet below you, and gets you close to some of the unusual rock formations formed by the tuff.
Developed cliff dwelling
            Near 0.5 miles, the Frey Trail exits right to head uphill to the park’s Juniper Campground.  Continuing on the Main Loop Trail, the stairs narrow considerably as you descend to meet the other end of the short-cut trail.  Turn right at this intersection and climb a final set of steps to reach a cliff dwelling called the Long House.  At this site, the Ancestral Pueblos built a cliff dwelling several stories high and carved some petroglyphs in the canyon walls.  This dwelling and the ruins at its base look more primitive than some of the cliff dwellings you passed earlier.
Long House cliff dwelling
            Past the Long House, the trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade to reach the east bank of Frijoles Creek.  A bridge used to span the creek here, but all bridges except one were removed in preparation for the flash floods of 2011.  Thus, these days you cross the creek on wood planks.  Truth be told, most of the year the creek is dry enough that you can cross it with no aid whatsoever.
Crossing Frijoles Creek
            Now on the west bank of the creek, you quickly arrive at an intersection with a 0.5 mile spur trail that leads to the Alcove House.  A bear-resistant trash can and log bench also sit at this junction.  If you want to see another ruin, you can turn right and extend your hike by 1 mile to see the Alcove House, but this description will turn left to head back to the Visitor Center.
            The last 0.8 miles of this hike follow a pleasant, shady, sandy-dirt nature trail that parallels Frijoles Creek.  Interpretive signs identify some of the flora and fauna that live along the creek.  A couple of bridges used to head back to the east side of the creek, but they no longer exist.  The absence of these bridges causes this loop to be slightly longer than the official distance published in the park’s trail guide.
Bridge over Frijoles Creek
Near 1.3 miles, the Visitor Center’s sandbags come into view across the creek, but you need to continue downstream to the park’s only remaining bridge, which is located about 600 feet past the Visitor Center.  Cross the bridge and walk across the parking lot to the Visitor Center to complete the hike.

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