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New Mexico Trails

Rip & Go: Alamo to Capulin Canyon – Bandelier National Monument, NM

Climb across mesas and up canyon walls to a cave full of pictographs.

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Do it 

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.

Trip Planner


Get there

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.

Gear up

CB Fox Department Store, 1735 Central Ave., Los Alamos. (505) 662-2864


Spring for mild weather and the greatest variety of wildflowers


(505) 672-3861


Bandelier National Monument ($12,

Trip data

Key Skill: Removing Cactus Spines

It only takes a careless second to feel the business end of a cactus—and a kneejerk response to make it worse. Prickly pear, cane cholla, and claret cup (all found on this hike) have microscopic spines, called glochids, that face backward like barbs on a fishhook. Use this one-two technique to remove the spines you can see, and those you can’t.

Spines Use tweezers or your multitool’s pliers—never your hands, lest you introduce more glochids—to pluck the needles straight out.

Glochids Affix a piece of duct tape to the puncture area (make sure your skin isn’t sweaty or sticking power will be compromised). Wait three minutes for the glue to set to the glochids, then peel it off.

Warning If you’re unlucky enough to get one of these in your eye, cover it in gauze and see a doctor.

See This: Painted Cave

Fifty feet above the foot trail through Capulin Canyon, the Ancestral Puebloans made red markings using a mineral rich with iron across the mouth of a khaki-colored cave. Pictographs that range from 100 to 700 years old depict wolves, elk, and even a church with a tall steeple (evidence of contact with the Spanish). Speculate at will—the site remains an active shrine to the people of the Cochiti Pueblo, who don’t reveal ancestral secrets—but do not enter: The park forbids it.

Locals Know

Of the four varieties of artemisia (or sage) that grow in and around Bandelier, sagebrush (Artemisia tridentada) is by far the most prevalent. Native American and Hispanic people in northern New Mexico traditionally have used sagebrush’s gray-green leafy parts to make a tea that treats the common cold. Your body can’t break down the leaves’ volatile oils, explains Robert Hawley, owner of Taos Herb Company. Instead, you’ll excrete them through sweating and expel them through your lungs’ capillary blood vessels. The result? What Hawley calls a “functional” cough that soothes your lungs, rather than a dry cough that can give you bronchitis.

On The Menu

Breakfast 1

On the road

Lunch 1

Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bagel

Dinner 1

NM Chicken Burrito

Breakfast 2

Bandelier Bacon Cakes

Lunch 2

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich


Trail mix, apples

NM Chicken Burrito 

Protein-packed recovery dinner

1 jalapeño pepper, minced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

1 avocado

½ onion

½ cup Monterey Jack cheese

2 tortillas

1 cup black beans (in zip-top)

1 small can of salsa

Sauté peppers for five minutes. Stir in black beans and cumin and heat. Pile mixture on tortillas and top with veggies, salsa, and cheese. Serves 2.

Bandelier Bacon Cakes

Rib-sticking start to the day

1 cup buttermilk pancake mix

¾ cup water

1 packet of shelf-stable bacon

Combine pancake mix with water. Start frying two strips of bacon in preheated pan. Once hot, flip over and pour batter into palm-size circles. Turn when small bubbles appear. Cook other side until light brown. Top with maple syrup. Recipe makes 6-7 cakes: enough for two people.

The Grocery List (Aisle # in Nearest Store Below)

[ ] avocado (produce)

[ ] jalapeño (produce)

[ ] red pepper (produce)

[ ] onion (produce)

[ ] PB & J (produce)

[ ] apples (produce)

[ ] trail mix (bulk)

[ ] ¼ lb. sliced turkey (deli)

[ ] shelf-stable bacon (meat)

[ ] instant buttermilk pancake mix (1)

[ ] black beans (2)

[ ] salsa (3)

[ ] whole wheat bagels (5)

[ ] tortillas (5)

[ ] shredded Monterey Jack cheese (5)

Pack: Cumin, maple syrup


Fill up with Bandelier Grill’s one-pound, stuffed potatoes, with insides ranging from carne asada to green chile chicken. 11 Sherwood Blvd., White Rock, NM; (505) 672-4083;



31 Sherwood Blvd., White Rock, NM

(505) 672-3811

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