Bandelier National Monument


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Cultural History

Native Peoples

Several thousand years ago, the Pajarito Plateau was used by mobile Paleo-Indian hunters, and later by Archaic hunter-gatherers, who wandered through the canyons seeking game and wild plants.

About 2,000 years ago, small family groups of Anasazi moved into the canyon occupying pit houses and cultivating corn, beans and squash. Pottery, and architecture slowly evolved in this region as it did throughout other Anasazi locations in the Southwest, but people continued living in small scattered settlements of one or two families.

About 800 years ago, there appeared a sudden influx of people, perhaps migrating from dryer areas of the Four Corners. People began living together in much larger groups creating villages (pueblos) with as many as 40 rooms.

This increase in population marked a cultural explosion. The Anasazi here began employing crude topols to scoop out dwellings from the soft volcanic tuff walls of the Pajarito Plateau fronting cave-like with multistory masonry buildings supported by wooden beams. These villages can be seen today for more than a mile along the talus slopes of Frijoles Canyon.

In the 13th century, the Anasazi constructed Tyuonyi, the circular two-story Pueblo in the bottom of Frijoles Canyon, just behind the Monument's Visitor Center. This high-walled village boomed in the 15th century, hosing as many as 100 people.

About 1500, with the emergence of the Spanish into the Desert Southwest, the residents left the canyon, never to return. Their descendants probably lived in Cochiti and San lldefonso pueblos a few miles east on the Rio Grande River.

Subsequent archeological surveys have revealed thousands of sites throughout the plateau.

Exploration & Settlement

Adolph F.A. Bandelier was born in Switzerland in 1840 and raised in Illinois. In 1880, this 40-year-old self-taught anthropologist-historian came to the New Mexico Territory under sponsorship of the Archeological Institute of America. His goal was to trace the social organization, customs and movements of the Southwestern and Mexican peoples.

Bandelier traveled and studied the canyons and mesas throughout the region, speaking with many indigenous people and visiting 166 ruins in New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. In 1880, men from Cochiti Pueblo guided Bandelier to their nearby ancestral homes in Frijoles Canyon. When he came upon the ancient pueblo ruins, he is reported to have exclaimed, "This is the grandest thing I ever saw."

The canyon's year-round stream, sheer cliffs and cave-room architecture inspired Bandelier to write the 1890 novel, The Delight Makers, depicting Pueblo life in pre-Spanish times. Bandelier's pioneering work laid much of the foundation for modern Southwest archeology.

Political History

Edward L. Hewett, who directed several excavations in Frijoles Canyon in the early 1900s, saw the need to preserve the ancestral Pueblo sites and was instrumental in its establishment as a national monument. Bandelier National Monument was proclaimed on February 11, 1916; transferred from Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, February 25, 1932. Acreage: 32,737, all federal. Wilderness area: 23,267.

Natural History

Plants & Animals

Frijoles Canyon was named for the beans grown along the creek which, year-round, flows southeast from the Jemez Mountains to the Rio Grande River. Almost three-quarters of Bandelier National Monument is wilderness area between 5,000 and 10,000-foot elevations, providing a rich variety of plant communities. Cottonwood and Box Elders cover the canyon bottoms; Yucca, Saltbush and Cholla cling to the canyon walls; Pinyon and Juniper crowd the mesa tops, while Fir and Ponderosa Pine inhabit the highest elevations.

These rich habitats are home to many animals common to these zones, including Elk, Black Bear, Mountain Lions and the protected Jemez Mountain Salamander.


The 10,000-foot Jemez peaks surrounding Bandelier National Monument are actually the rim of an ancient volcano. About a million years ago, eruptions from this volcano covered the entire area with lava and ash. The ash hardened into a soft rock called tuff. The entire Pajarito Plateau, through which Frijoles Canyon was carved, is composed of this Bandelier Tuff, except the very lowest portion of harder basalt.

After its final eruptions (about 100 times more powerful than Mt. Saint Helens) the Jemez volcano collapsed, leaving a 14-mile wide caldera known as Valle Grande. A portion of this giant caldera runs along the Route 4 to Jemez Hot Springs. Like many other New Mexico volcanoes, the Jemez Volcano occurred along faults that edge the west side of the Rio Grande Rift.


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