Visions of Bandilier National Park in New Mexico as the Ancient Manhattan of the Southwest

It was a Friday morning as I drove past El Morro, the chunk of rock emerged in the New Mexico landscape exhibiting shades of bloodshot burnt orange in the sunlight and graying rock within its shadows.

I was headed to Santa Fe for a girl’s weekend with my two sisters and a trip to Bandelier National Monument to explore ruins was on the agenda the next day.

A chilly Saturday morning brought breakfast and Mo, our tour guide through Bandelier.

Mo’s long light brown hair stuck out of her oversized sunhat and her hiking sandals revealed the miles she had traveled on foot.

Our group of six loaded a van that looked much like a party bus and we started our adventure driving under vibrant bridges painted with native Indian art and words.

We first stopped at Tesuque Pueblo (a.k.a. Camel Rock), located 10 miles north of Santa Fe, to snap a few photos and admire the smoky landscape due to a fire in the distance. The sandstone formation had eroded into the shape of a camel over time by wind and rain.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the 33,000 acre monument and parked at Tsankawi trail that led to the top of a vast mesa.

At the beginning of the trailhead stood a sturdy latter constructed from wood that looked native to the area. We climbed up one by one.

Centuries of water runoff created smooth narrow pathways in the pasty rock. Flow stuck in time.

Engraved foot holds scuttled up the rock walls like ants trails; some more prominent than others.

Caves carved from volcanic tuff were abundant around every corner with natural skylights bored into the ceilings and walls.  The inside of the cavities were pitch dark except the door that outlined the mesa landscape.

The outside of various caves, deep holes dimpled the rock where wood beams used to be to create a porch.

The Rocky Mountains loomed faintly in the distance as we stopped for a water break and group pictures.

The sky was hazy from a fire that burned in the Valles Caldera, an ancient supervolcano and the poster-child for calderas.

Our group at Bandelier National Park in New Mexico.

Our group at Bandelier National Park in New Mexico.

Petroglyphs lined the canvas walls becoming more obvious in the sunlight.  Someone in the group asked why Native Americans carved pictures into the rock and thought to myself, probably why we do it today: a form of art and communication.

Some petroglyphs were upside down or on its side from fallen down rocks.  Tree roots grew in between gigantic boulders at an attempt to crack the rock in two.

Decorated pottery pieces and arrowheads could be seen scattered around the ground.

The dirt sparkled with minerals like large chunks of sea salt.

I discovered a Clovis point, an arrowhead shaped crystal looking rock used as a spear, dating more than 12,000 years old.

Once at the top of the mesa by way of another latter, I envisioned a city of 2,000 people with plentiful crops, gobbling turkeys and an assortment of kivas within a city surrounded by mud bricks.

“All the surrounding mesas were occupied by other tribes,” said Mo. “Imagine how loud it would be! This was the Manhattan of the Southwest.”

The neighboring mesas stood like great bullet trains steaming down the desert extended full speed.

A large mesa in near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A large mesa in near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Ancestral Pueblo people lived in the Bandelier area from approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE.


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