Find rarely visited ruins hidden in New Mexico’s big-sky desertscape on this difficult, 20.4-mile trek. Leave Monument Headquarters heading northwest to the Frijoles Canyon trailhead and follow the dirt path up 100 feet to a right turn at a T-junction. At the mesa top, look right across Frijoles Canyon’s pinkish cliffs of tuff, a soft rock formed from volcanic ash. Go right at the T-junction, then left at a Y-junction 200 feet later, and for the next 2.2 miles, weave through piñon, junipers, and sagebrush on Pajarito Plateau. Look for prickly pears, cane cholla, and yucca.
Cross Lummis Canyon, a pocket oasis full of aspens. Reach Alamo Canyon. The views from the rim of this 500-foot-deep trough are some of this trip’s finest. Go right at the next Y-junction toward Yapashi Pueblo. In .6 mile, oblong boulders rest in a 650-foot-diameter circle, the remains of the Cochiti Puebloans’ 385-room village. Walk .5 mile, then bear left toward Capulin Canyon. This loop’s only reliable water source irrigates the interior. Camp in Zone D on a bank a few feet above the creek (in dry years, camp at an up-canyon site).
Next day, tank up with one gallon per person and follow cairns south. In two miles, head east across a dry tributary on the .1-mile spur to Painted Cave. Continue south to reach a sandy trail at the canyon’s end and turn left. Pass a patch of Dali-esque spires on the mesa, then head north up a sandy path along the western wall of Hondo Canyon. Switchback into the canyon and head across the wash.
At the Hondo Canyon sign, follow cairns on a loose-rock path up the canyon’s eastern wall. Bear left at the Y-junction, and after a half mile, look right to see the muddy Rio Grande. Follow cairns for three view-packed miles to a rocky wash. From here, continue .2 mile to close the Capulin Canyon loop, then return to the headquarters.
CB Fox Department Store, 1735 Central Ave., Los Alamos. (505) 662-2864
Spring for mild weather and the greatest variety of wildflowers
Bandelier National Monument ($12, natgeomaps.com
-Mapped by MacKenzie Ryan