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 (1) and follow the dirt path up 100 feet to a right turn at a T-junction (2). 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 (3), 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. (Poked? See “Key Skill,” next page.) Cross Lummis Canyon, a pocket oasis full of aspens. Reach Alamo Canyon (4). 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 (5) toward Yapashi Pueblo. In .6 mile, oblong boulders rest in a 650-foot-diameter circle (6), the remains of the Cochiti Puebloans’ 385-room village. Walk .5 mile, then bear left toward Capulin Canyon (7). This loop’s only reliable water source irrigates the interior. Camp in Zone D (8) 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 (9) to Painted Cave (“See This,” next page). Continue south to reach a sandy trail (10) 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 (11) along the western wall of Hondo Canyon. Switchback into the canyon (12) 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 (13), 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 (14), then return to the headquarters.
From Los Alamos, take NM 501 south for 4.2 miles and turn left onto NM 4 east. In 5.9 miles, turn right onto Entrance Rd. Park in three miles.
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)