Friday, April 13, 2012

Frijoles Canyon in Recovery - Bandelier National Monument

Apparently the trails into the Bandelier backcountry are now open (with the exception of Falls Trail below Upper Falls due to a bridge washout). Los Alamos' Blake Wood toured Frijoles Canyon and the South Mesa last weekend to check out the damage from last year's fire and flooding. He photographed the somewhat frightening new landscape of the Frijoles Loop Trail (below).

The trail through Frijoles itself is mostly gone and the creekbed has been scoured several feet deeper in places. At least one location is blocked with enough debris to be only just passable. The section of canyon near the Visitor's Center appears to have been largely spared (from fire damage), but up canyon (6mi) near Upper Crossing the damage from fire and flooding is nearly total. Devastating in scope to the casual hiker or trail-runner, but perhaps a not-so-gentle reminder of the dual nature of both forests and canyons in particular. Forests burn and canyons flood.

All pictures courtesy of Blake Wood, thanks a bunch Blake. View the full album and comments here.

Forest burn at the Ponderosa Campground (Junction of 501 and Hwy 4)

The view up-canyon (toward the Valles Caldera) from the north switchbacks

The view looking south across Frijoles canyon. Pretty much everything is crispy

The Upper Crossing of Frijoles Canyon - once a beautiful piece of green forest floor with a clear creek running through. Pretty much obliterated at the moment. Hard to look at this one actually.

Looking back - the view of Frijoles from the south mesa rim. A bit of green toward Highway 4

On the south mesa. Lots of torched ponderosa

Blake reported that he saw evidence of previously hidden ruins and artifacts (shown here) uncovered by the blaze.

Descending back into Frijoles toward the Visitor's Center. Looks a lot better at this point in the canyon. You can see a bit of the cliff dwellings and pathways down on the left.

Climbing back up canyon, the looks of things aren't too bad near the Visitor's Center although the trail is mostly gone as are all the bridges.

Major debris pile built up against some of the un-burned tree stands. Gives an idea of the volume of water that came through the canyon with all the vegetation stripped away.

A new narrows along the canyon. This didn't use to be there, now it's an alarming big feature.

A view of the expanded creekbed. It used to flow in a fairly narrow settled-in channel. One can also view the scouring that has taken place - draw a visual line from just below the base of the tree to the cliff face.

More scouring through a tight section. There used to be an obvious and well-worn trail through here. Now only creek.

Old man pondy at the end of the line. I'd imagine there's several thousand acres of these fellas but this guy settled down over a piece of the trail. This looks to be near the F-Campground area.

A hollowed tree flagged by Rangers as a likely wind hazard

Nearing the Upper Crossing once again and the hike out. This area is just crushed. Hopefully the grasses and shrubs will hurry back and set some anchors for the rest of the area to stabilize. Careful hiking/running through these parts if you venture out to see things for yourself.

View Frijoles Canyon - Bandelier, NM in a larger map


  1. Wow, I've been wanting to get myself up to Bandelier to see the damage, and I might be up in the area in a couple weeks (I live in Socorro). Last year I spent 4 days in the backcountry over Memorial Day. It was so heartbreaking when that fire started. Thanks for posting the photos . . . I think about that place all the time!

  2. Heartbreaking is an apt description, fortunately nature provides all of the tools for recovery and re-growth when given the time. A tragedy like this certainly instills in one respect for the power of nature as well as the great and sometimes fleeting value of our wild places. Looks like you're wandering our state's wild places 10miles at a time. If you make it up to Bandelier I'd like to know how you found it post-fire.

  3. The Falls Trail below Upper Falls has had to be closed because a section of the trail that ran alongside a cliff has washed away, leaving only thin air where the trail used to be. All the other trails in the park are open, although most are very difficult, similar to the description of the upper parts of Frijoles Canyon. If you are interested in hiking or backpacking in Bandelier, call the Visitor Center, 505-672-3861 x 517, open 7 days/week



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