Bandolier National Monument


Mesa Verde really steals Bandelier National Monument’s thunder. Mesa Verde has a little more wow factor and a little bit grander buildings, but there’s a lot to offer in this little canyon an hour outside of Santa Fe. We came expecting to see indian ruins and hike in the hot hot days.

But this place had it’s own grandeur and majesty. The views of the calderas and the canyon itself were worth exploring. What made it the most special of all was going with a good group of friends and watching J and L (our little girls) go crazy for camping.

A few months earlier we were talking with a couple of friends about places they needed to see in the southwest, and we mentioned Mesa Verde – because who wouldn’t, but I had second thoughts. The ladders and climbs out there are a little much for Toddlers in my book, and I wanted the kids to have fun. So, we chose to go to the ruins at Bandelier instead.

At the time I had never heard of this place, but the pictures looked good so why not. It’s good having friends from Albuquerque to set you on the right path.

We loaded up for our second camping trip of the summer – I had just finished back packing for a week, but the family had camped in Cimarron, NM just two weeks earlier for one night to go pick up supplies from Philmont. This would be our youngest’s first multi-night camping trip.

Juniper Campground would be our home away from home, and this was probably the first surprise of the trip – there was ample shade at quite a few of the campgrounds. We saw a bobcat the first night, and the full moon on the second night brought lots of howling coyotes out. But nothing got near us, and the girls didn’t get scared.  10952539_657257694213_946615675773301901_n

On our first night we meandered out into the trails right around the campsite, but we didn’t go to far. L was in heaven exploring at top speed and falling all over herself on the uneven ground, but she was so busy exploring that it didn’t even slow her down.

We ended up hiking down into the canyon all the way to the ruins instead of taking the shuttle bus. It’s about 1.7 miles or so down to the ruins, and in our first round we took a right at the tour trail which was a mistake. Take a left if you go. IMG_1223

The more spectacular ruins lie in that direction, although there’s a fair case to head to the creek crossing to the right. J and the rest of us dipped our toes into the small stream, shucking our shoes to enjoy the sand and water.


Not to far from there on the way back up the loop was a great rock for jumping off, and J has been taking gymnastics all summer long.


By this time in the day it had reached a nearly unbearable level of heat, and so we took the tour bus back to the campsite. That air conditioning felt good, and we decided to take the kids swimming in Los Alamos about 15 minutes away.

The pool there is the highest 50 m pool in the world, and in addition they also have a very warm pool for little kids. But I’ll give a good review of that pool later.

As we came out, the temperature had dropped and it was pouring down rain – so we grabbed dinner at a local place that was ok to eat at and headed back to our tents. The rain didn’t last too long but the girls had passed out in the tent. The adults got together and visited waiting for the last members of our party to get there from Amarillo.

The next morning we decided to go the same route we had before with a turn to the left rather than the right. Our new party members were enjoying the scenery, but the most exciting part of this hike was that J (our 3 year old) hiked the whole 2 miles down into the canyon and back to the ruins herself!


She ran on the flat parts, but needed a little help on the steeper portions of the climb. This little girl made it all the way down in her sandals. She was a ‘hiking princess’ in her little dress and ‘princess’ shoes.


We stopped for views here and there, and she pretended to have a camera to take pictures. Well I guess she pretended to have a phone to take pictures.


The rain came again that afternoon and kept the temperatures down where it was manageable – i.e. mid to upper 70s – and made it a much more pleasant experience at the campground.

I’ll admit, I was ready for a bed after a week backpacking and three nights out here, but I was not uncomfortable – far from it.

Bandolier has a lot to offer anyone who wants to hike or camp. The trails go down to waterfalls in the eastern half and back up along canyon rims. If I had been in the running shape I had been in last year, I would have wanted to run the trails up and down the canyons for a while. They were really well kept, and while a bit rocking in places, the running would have been superb.

As it was, I enjoyed hiking with my little girls, and watching J and L hike so well and just gush over the out doors. The climbed up the ladders into the ruins themselves, and were as happy as can be. I can’t wait to take them camping again, and I would definitely head back to bandolier when I get a chance.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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