Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bandelier National Monument and Lummis Canyon

Adolph Bandelier c. 1880 - courtesy Museum of NM
Local historian Mark Simmons penned a terrific write-up of area icon and archeologist Adolph Bandelier in his most recent column in the Santa Fe New Mexican. Bandelier is a New Mexico figure I have a lot of admiration for if only because of my many wanderings through the canyons and mesa tops of his namesake at Bandelier National Monument. Even in the wonderland of northern New Mexico, the canyons of Bandelier are a special place to visit. As usual, Simmons frames a compelling historical profile that is worth a read if you have a few minutes to spare.

Bandelier came to New Mexico to survey and document many of the area's living pueblos at the turn of the century, but was eventually drawn to the ruins among the canyons of Los Alamitos upriver from Cochiti, proclaiming it to be 'the grandest thing I ever saw'. Simmons' write-up includes a bit about the archeologist's chance meeting and subsequent friendship with another New Mexico luminary, photographer Charles Lummis. Of their chance meeting, Bandelier writes:
"One day in a New Mexico sandstorm, a bronzed, middle-aged man, dusty but unweary from his 65-mile tramp from Zuni, walked into my solitary camp at Los Alamitos. Within the afternoon, I knew that here was the most extraordinary mind I had ever met."
Charles F. Lummis - courtesy of braunlibrary
Lummis was to travel extensively through the western Americas, spending a number of years in northern New Mexico, and later in his career he personally counseled President Teddy Roosevelt on the affairs of the Native Peoples of the western United States, acting as a staunch advocate for their cause. Together, Bandelier and Lummis archived and photographed much of the remaining artifacts and cliff dwellings of the people that once settled in and around the area of Frijoles Canyon. 

Established as National Monument in 1916, it was Bandelier's name selected by the Park Service to represent the area's cultural treasure in honor of the body of work the two men put together. Lummis' name adorns the magnificent canyon that stretches just west of Frijoles and Alamos canyons inside the Monument boundaries. The canyon's elevation profile dips 700ft from rim-to-floor. A spectacular sight and a trail obstacle with few rivals. 

There's a fairly extensive network of trails through Bandelier Monument that cross the mesas and send the canyons. The origins of some may be as old as the ancient cliff dwellings themselves. The loop through Frijoles Canyon (16+mi) might be the best trail run in northern New Mexico in my opinion. At the present time much of the backcountry trail network is closed due to the catastrophic damage from last summer's Las Conchas Fire. When the restoration work begins to fall into place and the trails open to the public once again it is well worth the time to run out Frijoles or venture out to Lummis Canyon and the Stone Lions beyond.

Frijoles Canyon looking west (c. 2008)  - courtesy of mywisconsinspace.com
Stone Lions, Bandelier Natl Mon. - HDD (Aug, 2009)

View Frijoles Canyon - Bandelier, NM in a larger map


  1. Very interesting.

    About the fire, your earlier post says those areas won't be the same again until you're an old man. In the east (where there's more rain of course) after a fire, there is a process of profuse growth in the first few years after the fire, but it's different species. What does it look like here in the intermediate period?

    Also there is a line of thought that fire improves the forest, that it's a naturally occurring necessary thing. Is that true here?

    1. What will take a while to come back are the large pinon and old growth ponderosa pine. What will come back quickly are grasses, scrub oak, and aspen. In fact what had come in quite nicely from the Cerro Grande fire were the flowering plants, shrubs, and aspen - only to be torched along with everything else last June.

      I don't want to pretend that I'm some trained naturalist, but fires are a naturally recurring process in forests. The flooding and erosion from flooding does much more lasting damage than fire. Las Conchas burned hot enough and with enough intensity in some places as to scorch the soil and burn out root systems of the trees. That kind of damage is not common and does take somewhat longer to recover from. If last year's events are followed by prolonged dryness or light snowpacks, this will also effect the recovery period.



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