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Petroglyphs and Cliff Dwellings: Bandelier National Monument

Updated on February 22, 2020
Ladder into a cliff dwelling at the Bandelier National Monument.
Ladder into a cliff dwelling at the Bandelier National Monument. | Source

Bandelier: Hidden Gem

Bandelier is one of the best national monuments you've never heard of.

Of course Mesa Verde is amazing; my family and I have been there several times and it never fails to impress. We went to Chaco Canyon a couple of years ago and its spectacular ruins left us speechless. But Bandelier National Monument remains one of my favorites of all time for a few reasons:

  • Less people. It's not as well known as other sites, like Mesa Verde, so there aren't as many people. I remember going to Yellowstone a couple years ago and the throngs of Asian tourists were unbelievable; we could barely see any of the attractions. That's not to say that Bandelier is a ghost town, but you won't have to fight 100s of tourists in wide brimmed hats - armed with umbrellas - for the chance to look at a petroglyph for 10 seconds.
  • It is an easy hike. Unlike other sites, Bandelier doesn't make you feel like you have to earn that handful of petroglyphs with a 10 mile hike. The main path is easy and relatively short. For those of you who enjoy a good hike, Bandelier offers that, too. The Stone Lions monument is 10 miles from the Visitor Center; one blogger noted that it took them 12 hours to get there and back. It features two life-sized carved stone lions enclosed in a stone circle. There are no other monuments like it in the southwest.
  • It is more accessible. Even at Mesa Verde, you have to drive several miles from the entrance to the visitor center, and the ruins are farther still. You don't need a park ranger to visit the ruins at Bandelier like you do at Mesa Verde. You don't have to be on a guided tour to view the ruins at Chaco Canyon, but the site itself is truly in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a decent-ish dirt road.
  • Because it borders the National Laboratories of Los Alamos, you get a taste of our secret government programs. Los Alamos is an interesting day trip in itself - there are museums detailing the history of the Labs and the work they have done - but you can get a taste of what our government keeps hidden from us just driving into the Bandelier area. The warning signs, the high tech equipment scattered around the canyons and hills, and the isolation of the Labs can inspire all but the most die hard skeptics to conjure conspiracy theories about UFO technology and clandestine government programs.

Cliff dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument.
Cliff dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Cliff dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument.
Cliff dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Cliff Dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument.
Cliff Dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument.
Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Shrine of the Stone Lions
Shrine of the Stone Lions | Source

Bandelier isn't entirely perfect, though.

One big drawback, in the summer and early fall, is having to park at a remote parking lot and ride a shuttle bus to the Visitor Center. When we were there in September, we had to take the bus; when we visited in January 2020, we were able to use the main parking lot by the Visitor Center.

We lucked out on our September trip: The weather wasn't too hot that day. Temperatures at Bandelier can be extreme, so prepare for it. Blistering hot, high desert temperatures in the summer and bitterly cold, snowy days in the winter. Note that Bandelier can have snow days in the winter, so if the weather is very bad, plan that it will be closed.

Bandelier's Visitor Center is open every day from 9-5, except Christmas and New Year's Day.

Petroglyph at the Bandelier National Monument.
Petroglyph at the Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Birds are a common petroglyph theme at most petroglyph sites.
Birds are a common petroglyph theme at most petroglyph sites. | Source
Petroglyphs at Bandelier National Monument.  Some of the glyphs have an alien quality.
Petroglyphs at Bandelier National Monument. Some of the glyphs have an alien quality. | Source
Spirals are a common motif at many petroglyph sites, not just Bandelier National Monument.
Spirals are a common motif at many petroglyph sites, not just Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Petroglyph at Bandelier National Monument.
Petroglyph at Bandelier National Monument. | Source
Cross shaped rock carving, Bandelier National Monument.
Cross shaped rock carving, Bandelier National Monument. | Source

A Word Abouth the Labs

There is only one road in and out of Bandelier National Monument; as you get closer to the Monument, it's hard to miss the barbed wire fences and warning signs.

That land belongs to the National Laboratories.

Make no mistake: Mystery surrounds the National Labs.

To get from Bandelier into the city of Los Alamos (to say, get some lunch), you have to drive through a part of the main Labs compound. There is a military guard station; you have to show your ID to continue. You have a strong feeling you're being watched, and they tell you not to stop or park until you reach Los Alamos.

My husband and I were military, and this was unlike any military base I've ever been on. Spooky!

A final interesting note: The inhabitants of Bandelier - like those of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon - disappeared without a trace. There are theories that they, for example, left the area because of historic drought, but there is little evidence to back up the theories. The spooky reality is that no one really knows where they went. The location of Los Alamos really gets you thinking about that alien-looking petroglyph at Bandelier, and what really happened to the people who lived there so many hundreds of years ago!

Alien "Gray" type petropglyph at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos.
Alien "Gray" type petropglyph at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Prohibited Articles warning sign at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Prohibited Articles warning sign at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Explosives warning sign at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Explosives warning sign at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs (atomic weapons and nuclear materials) at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs (atomic weapons and nuclear materials) at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier.
Warning signs at the perimeter fence of the National Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico. You will see numerous signs like these on your way to Bandelier. | Source

© 2020 Carrie Peterson

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      This is an extremely well-illustrated and interesting article. I have heard of cave dwellings elsewhere, but not these before.

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