Discover Native American Ruins On a Lonely Desert Mesa

Yapashi Pueblo Loop, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
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Yapashi Pueblo Loop, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
Bandelier

Explore 11,000-year-old ruins and petroglyphs carved into the volcanic tuff in Bandelier. Photo by: D Scott Clark

For more than 10,000 years, Bandelier was the home of an Ancestral Puebloan civilization. Nearly 700 years later, its a national monument filled with ancient artifacts—from potsherds to multi-storied buildings—and more than 70 miles of trail. Ladders allow access to frontcountry ruins in Frijoles Canyon, but backcountry archaeological sites remain comparatively untouched.

For the best tour, take this 16-mile loop, which hits Yapashi Pueblo, the largest unrestored pueblo in Bandelier. Take the Frijoles Canyon and Rim Trail (expect tricky terrain in spots, due to a 2014 flood), which looks down on the ancient Frijoles Canyon structures. Then, pick up the Stone Lions Trail to reach Alamo Creek, one of the route’s few seasonal water sources (call ahead to check). Fill up and find a campsite atop the mesa, a mile or so from the creek. (Dispersed camping is permitted on the mesas and ridgetops in Bandelier; camping in the canyon bottoms is sometimes allowed but subject to unpredictable closures.) Next day, stop by the Yapashi Pueblo; surveys indicate it was four stories tall and contained 350 rooms on the ground floor. Take the Mid Alamo Trail back to your car. Note: Treat archaeological sites with respect. “These are still sacred sites,” says chief of resource management Jeremy Sweat.

Distance 16 miles, 2 daysTrailhead 35.778263, -106.270950 Season March through December Permit Free; obtain at the visitor center