Taos – Day 5 – Bandelier National Monument and Los Alamos

While we were in a furniture store in Santa Fe yesterday, I asked the proprietor for his opinion as to where to go and what to see. He mentioned Canyon Avenue, which was the highlight of our Santa Fe visit.

When I told him how much we liked touring the Taos Pueblo, he suggested Bandelier National Monument down near Los Alamos as something we would really like.

We arrived via GPS on Wednesday morning. The National Parks Service folks at the Visitor’s Center were great.

Being over 62, I was offered a lifetime “Senior Pass” for $10 that would get me, and up to four other adults, free entrance to any area run by the NPS or 5 other federal authorities. A sweet deal that only somewhat offsets being old enough to qualify.

Bandelier contains an Ancestral Pueblo village and two different types of cliff dwellings, all easily accessed by anyone of reasonable health.

You first come to Tyuonyi, the ruins of a circular village, dating to about 1300AD. You can walk through the village on the path among the low brick remnants of the early buildings.


The Pueblo inhabitants of Tyuonyi were farmers and extensive evidence of agriculture can be found on the site.

Tyuonyi walls.

This Kiva was a roofed over circular structure, accessed via a roof ladder and used for ceremonial purposes. There were three Kivas in the center of the village.

An over view of the ruins of Tyuonyi from up on the cliff dwellings.

An artist’s reconstruction of what Tyuonyi would have been like in about 1400. There are perhaps 100 inhabitants in 400 rooms.

Now off to the cliff dwellings!

The cliffs are made of volcanic tuff, which is soft enough to be easily worked into blocks or tunneled into chambers. It is subject to erosion and the NPS, with the help and input of the local Pueblo people, spends a lot of time and effort restoring and protecting the artifacts. Due to the inherent fragility of the materials, most of the sites in the valley have never been excavated. The Pueblo would prefer the homes of their ancestors remain buried and preserved.

Handrails and steps provided by the NPS mean you don’t need the agility of a Pueblo to get right into the site.

The inside of a room. Ladder at right. Almost none of the ceilings were more than 4 feet tall.

The trails were smooth and level, for the most part, with steps and ladders for the adventurous.

An adventurous tourist climbs the cliff.

Some of the caves were off limits for safety reasons.

One of the highlights was the Alcove House, high in the cliffs.

I would love for these photos to impress you with our courage and stamina, but it was actually a bit easier than it looks. The NPS has done a great job here.

We made it. The Alcove House was a ceremonial place with several small rooms off of a main cave. It was refreshingly cool after a climb in the hot sun.

View to the valley floor. Red dot in center is a visitor approaching the first ladder.

About to start back down. Note ghostly thumb at upper right, possibly of Ancient Pueblo spirit.

View of cliffside from the landing.

This was incredibly fun. It was about 2.5 to 3 miles total and the 80 degree heat and 6000′ altitude does affect your stamina, but one of the nice things about being here the week before Memorial Day is that there is no rush. No crowds. No lines. Bandelier is a hidden gem and we would return anytime we are in the Taos area.

We left Bandelier and headed to Los Alamos to take in the Bradbury Science Museum. This is the first time I ever had to show an ID to get into an entire town. At the entrance road, there is a set of toll booths with security doing a cursory (I think) check. My driver’s license got us through with no problem. Betty could have been Mata Hari and they would not have known.

The museum was great. We watched two movies about the history of the lab, including Einstein and Oppenheimer and the race with the Nazis to develop the ultimate weapon. They had mockups of all types of nuclear warheads, including Fat Man and Little Boy from WWII.

Fat Man.

Little Boy.

This is all presented in a straight forward manner with a minimum of defensiveness or jingoism. A couple of large murals, one each pro and con, discuss whether we needed to drop the bombs that ended the war. Each side lays out compelling arguments.

Me? I would hesitate to substitute my opinion, with all the advantages of 70 years of research and hindsight, for the Commander in Chief who had to decide, on the spot, how best to bring the slaughter to an end. Truman had to live right in that moment, with only what he knew then, and the responsibility for the lives of millions.

What if the invasion had gone forward and had resulted in the predicted million or more Allied and Japanese deaths? What if Truman could have stopped that slaughter in August 1945 and didn’t do it? I would not stoop to second guess.

It is a great museum, full of fascinating science, with hands on exhibits of nuclear tests, the history of the super computer (Petaflops!) and nuclear disarmament. Betty and I both loved it and would recommend it to anyone.

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