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  • Steve

Bandelier National Monument - We are Getting Close to our First Milestone!

Updated: May 15, 2020

(Sorry it has taken so long for a new post, but we were pretty limited on wifi and cell signal and I have been trying to not use data on my phone as much.)

So over the 14 nights we had to plan for ourselves, we stayed at a boondockers welcome for 3 nights, a National Park campground for 4 nights, a BLM campground for 2 nights, and a National Monument for 5 nights.

Total cost for our 14 days = 12 pack of Modelo + $80 (National Park), $15 (BLM), and $60 (National Monument)= $170.

Our goal for the trip was to stay below $30/night and this last 2 weeks we did really well (<$13/night).

We were originally just going to head South to Sante Fe before we got to Albuquerque for the Balloon Festival, but then we found this National Monument that sounded more like our style. It couldn’t have been a better place for us. We stayed at the Juniper Campground which is part of the Bandolier NM and the whole time we were there, there were no more than 5 other campers in our circle of about 15 sites. We enjoyed the area so much we stayed here all 5 nights.

Can't see her well, but Jen is down there making her latte. Nice day at the site!

Bandolier NM was home to the Ancient Pueblo people that lived here from 1150 - 1550 AD. After growth of their population and several bad droughts they had to leave the canyon. It was pretty amazing to see all the ancient ruins there.

The rangers gave Lila a Jr. Ranger hat and now she is exploring the monument with it
View from the trail above down to the Great House below

Side Note:

It was designated a National Monument in 1916 and guess who built out the buildings and trails…. yep, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) Not trying to start any fights, but why don’t we do more things like this when the economy goes in the tank. Any able body single person between age 18-25 works on infrastructure and sends home 90% of their income to their family. They would learn new skills and provide for their families while building some amazing stuff for future generations.

Back to the story:

The campground was beautiful with 3 loops that each have a restroom with flushing toilets (luxury 😉), potable water at spigots around the sites, fire rings, and benches at each spot. I would say the max length rig would be around 30’ for a travel trailer mostly because of tight corners. Most spots you could park a larger trailer but would have to park your tow vehicle in the overflow parking. We found a nice pull-through spot at the top of the Abert’s loop. FYI, an Abert is a type of squirrel which we NEVER saw the whole time!!

The elusive Abert Squirrel

The Monument has a nice visitor center built by the CCC down at the bottom of the canyon that you can drive to as long as it is before 7am or after 3pm during peak season. After October 16th, you can drive down there any time. There is limited parking down there. We decided to hang out at the site until after 3pm so that we could take the drive down ourselves. I am glad we did because there was hardly anyone there compared to Sunday when we hiked down during the shuttle time (aka bus tours galore). We went on the Main Loop Trail which has a nice interpretive booklet to tell you all about the Pueblo ruins.

Jr. Ranger Lila!

Since the book was so long and we were running out of time, I read the booklet to all of us. Apparently, I was so into reading the book and walking that I walked right over the top of this guy….

This guy was at least 3" long and moved pretty fast.

I read in one of the books at the visitor center that North American Tarantulas are not poisonous but the hair on their legs can cause some major irritation similar to a wasp sting and he can fling the hairs toward his aggressors. Good to know since Jen was trying to take a picture and said "I wish we had a reference for his size" and Lila jumps in with her bare foot right next to him. Lucky girl that this guy was so into trying to find his mate for the night that he didn’t have time to throw some hairs her way. October is their migration and mating month. The females hang out in their nest while the males go looking for them ;)

Sunday, we decided to take the trail down from the campground to the Pueblo/Visitor Center area. When we got down there, we decided to head to the visitor center for a bathroom break and while waiting for the family to get ready for the next hike, we met a new family. We met a family of 4 from Wisconsin that was here for the day and heading out on the same trail we were going on to, the Alcove House. You climb 4 ladders up 140' to this open cavern where the ancient Pueblos had a ceremonial kiva in it looking over the valley.

Ladder climb up to Alcove House

We had such a good time talking before hand that we decided to take the hike together. It was a very good hike together with them and their 2 children. Lila and their kids were great friends within 5 minutes of meeting them. I think we have already figured out a new route to include their house in our trip.

Monday and Tuesday, we went into Los Alamos for the Library (Free wifi to work/school) and some history learning. Did you know that Los Alamos was just a ranch area that had a school for training young men how to ranch until 1943 when the US government needed a place to develop “The Bomb”. Now, it is home to one of the largest government research facilities in the US. Interesting facts here. Back then, every person including children had to have an ID to live in this town due to the security risk involved.

Lila's self portrait ;)

Today, it isn’t as bad, but depending on which way you drive into the town you may still get stopped.

We stopped in at the Manhattan Project National Historic Park for a 45 minute video on the making of “The Bomb” or as they called it in the beginning “The Gadget”. It was a very good video and everyone there had lots to teach us.

Now, we need to go visit the 2 sister sites in Oak Ridge Tennessee (added to the route already) and Hanford, WA (in our own backyard!). It was very informative to visit this site as well as the Bradbury Museum there that showed us the (non-classified) stuff they are currently working on at the Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL). Jen heard that there are around 12,000 people who work for LANL currently and we believe it….on Tuesday at 5pm, there was a line about 3 miles long waiting to get through the 2 light intersections in White Rock, NM which is on the South side. (No pic but believe us😲… two lane road!)

Wednesday, we went on one of the harder hikes, by elevation change, in the park. Yes, we are gluttons for punishment. Although, this time I think the elevation and difficulty got to a few of us.

We went on the Cerro Grande trail which starts at 8,900’ elevation and ends at 10,109’. Lila is usually pretty good with our hikes, but for some reason she wasn’t feeling it the whole time on this trail. I pulled out the waist strap of my back pack and she used that to get up the whole hike. Nicely, she said, “Thanks for the ride, Dad!” at the top.

Lila getting a tow up the hill
Overlook of Valles Caldera

After the hike, we headed back to the National Monument (after 3pm) to get our Ranger Badges 😁 then head home to crash.

We did finally break out the Solostove on Tuesday and Wednesday night for some S’mores and family talk time around the campfire. This was the first time since day 3 of our trip that we had a campfire. If you want a cool little (or big, they have bigger ones) campfire that reduces smoke smell drastically, look into the Solostove. We love it! Although, I don’t know if I love packing it around for this trip. At home, I think it is great. Here, I think I wish I had one of those portable propane fires that I could turn on and off easily and don’t have to deal with the mess.

It kind of looks like a hot dog, but it is a cookie that Jen saved from earlier. :)

We decided a couple of weeks ago that we would alternate who writes the blog so stay tuned for Lila’s blog on the Balloon Festival. It will be coming very soon since we fell so far behind.


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