First, a little history: there are three New Mexican things that have been part of our home for the entire time we've been married, despite the fact we never lived in New Mexico until 2015. First, this Ansel Adams print, which Matt gave me as a Christmas gift in maybe 1989 or 1990. Second, four pictures of Bandelier National Monument that he took on his drive from Ohio to California as a 2LT in 1994, and third, a wedding vase from San Ildefonso Pueblo (purchased on the same trip). These items have been prominently displayed in every house we've ever lived in (this is our 11th!). Neither of us has been to Taos (yet), we've both been to San Ildefonso Pueblo to explore (but separately, in 1994 and 2003) and until recently, only Matt had been to Bandelier (more than once, even). It was starting to stress me out, that I might not get there before we moved because plans kept getting foiled—but finally over spring break, we made it!
We decided to head up on Easter, thinking that there might be less people than during a spring break week day (wrong)(well, maybe not wrong, but there were still a ton of people). When Matt took all our parents there in early February, there were about seven people there total. Not the case on Easter, but still fun. And less snow!
The history of Bandelier is pretty amazing: around the 1100s, the Ancestral Pueblo peoples of this part of the world started to build permanent homes in the cliff faces you see here. Some of the structures were 2-3 stories high, built of volcanic tuff and ponderosa pine timber. Rooms were carved out, and ladders were used to reach the different levels. On the canyon floor, there are room structure ruins that surround kivas, built for ceremonies. By the mid 1500s, most people who lived here had moved on, establishing some of the 19 pueblos that still exist today.
One of the coolest parts of visiting the Main Loop trail is the opportunity to climb the ladders and check out the insides of the cliffs. Unless you're Matt, and then one of the worst parts of visiting the Main Loop trail is the opportunity to climb the ladders. He was OK with the girls climbing the short ladders, but more on that soon.
I spotted some cactus growing from the rocks, which I didn't 100% understand. I am happy to chalk it up to the mysteries of desert botany. [Ed. note: but wait! Apparently it really was a mystery of desert botany! Here's an explanation.]
It was fun to spot things as the trail wound around the rocks: a deer with ears too big for its body, some spring, a few petroglyphs. We also spotted a Chinese family with a mama who was climbing down one of the ladders in huge high heels. We are good at spotting people in inappropriate footwear when we're out and about—it's like a special skill.
There are just so many details to consider about what life was like in these cliff dwellings. There are over 3000 archaeological sites left behind, and much of what is known comes from places where garbage was tossed. It's well-established that their diets consisted of farmed corn, beans, and squash, and hunted food like rabbit, squirrel, deer, and other game. Pottery and basketry were as much a part of Ancestral Pueblo life as it is part of modern Pueblo life, which I think is awfully cool.
The trail takes a sudden turn into pine forest as it headed toward the Alcove House, a.k.a. Matt's worst nightmare. We love hiking through pine, because it's soft underfoot and the air smells so good.
And then you see it: way up there via four steep ladders is Alcove House, which if you follow that link, you will see that at the time of this post is closed due to a broken ladder. SHHHHHH, DON'T TELL MATT THAT. There was much angst over the decree that no Dillow under the age of 18 would be permitted to engage in such a foolhardy endeavor as climbing those ladders. Maddie was M A D about it. Matt knows of what he decreed: he and his mom and dad did climb up to the top in February (while my parents happily enjoyed the pine air down below) and he wasn't interested in doing it ever again, thankyouverymuch. Here's a picture as proof:
As we neared the base, however, he announced that if I wanted to take our children's lives in my hands and climb up, then fine—he'd have no part in it. In the end, we decided to keep Gracie and Bridget on the ground while I took Maddie up to the top. We all have our issues: I am scared to death of ocean creatures touching me, but four steep ladders does not make my heart race so up we went. It was super fun. Heh.
It was the right call, because while both Gracie and Bridget are physically capable of climbing, there was too great a chance that in the middle they would decide they would climb no further up OR down, and it may have only taken them one stray glance down to end up in this spot. But oh, how fun. The view was gorgeous! I did not take my big camera up because, four steep ladders. There was a girl a few climbing spots above me that not only took her big camera up, did not secure it around her neck or wrist—she was just holding it all nonchalantly. My heart raced way more because of that than the steepness of the ladders.
On the trail back out we saw this sign, which made us giggle. There is nothing pleasing about fungus beetles, sorry. Also: there is nothing harmless about fungus beetles whose special skill is startling people.