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"Bandelier is unusual in that there are only three miles of public road within
its 33,750 acres, but there are 70 miles of trails. This network of trails,
both short and long, invites you to explore the park . . ."
~ from the National Parks Service brochure for Bandelier National Monument
Since the weather was nearly perfect this morning, we drove down to Bandelier to hike one of the scenic trails that is new to us.

Although we read about most of the trails on the park website, we weren't sure which one we'd hike today until we talked with a ranger in the visitor center after we got there. She highly recommended the Falls Trail to us for various reasons. It was a good choice.

In a previous trip to Bandelier we hiked two of the heavily visited trails around the cliff dwellings. Those trails focus on archeological sites inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo people descended from hunters and gatherers who came into the region over 10,000 years ago.

You can see photos of some of the cliff dwellings and a village built on the Frijoles Canyon floor in a journal entry I wrote in 2009. Here is one:

The trails to the cliff dwellings are very interesting -- and something every visitor to Bandelier should see at least once -- but today we wanted something more challenging and farther from the madding crowd. On the Falls Trail we saw only ten people in our 2-hour hike from the Visitor Center down to the Rio Grande and back up.


The Falls Trail descends 700 feet in 2 miles through Frijoles Canyon from the Visitor Center to the Rio Grande. It passes two waterfalls (Upper and Lower) and crosses Frijoles Creek several times. The round-trip hike is about five miles.

This is a diagram of the trail from one of the interpretive signs at the trailhead:

I highlighted the trail in yellow and marked the upper (1) and lower falls (2) in red.

You can see a .pdf map of the park and the location of trails on any page on the Bandelier website. Just click the little box near the top that says "View Map."

I recommend purchasing the inexpensive guide to Falls Trail at the visitor center the first time you hike this trail. It contains information about the native plants, animals, and interesting geology that will enhance your enjoyment of the hike -- identification of the various colorful rocks, including "tent rocks," that you'll see, how the rock layers and shapes were formed over the millennia, descriptions of the various eco-systems along the way and the wide variety of animals and plants that thrive in those environments, the effects of fires and floods, the history of the river, and more.

Tent rocks rock!

The photos that follow are in order going down the trail to the river and coming back up to the visitor center.

Because I'm including so many pictures -- for reasons I'll explain in another entry -- this "virtual tour" of the trail will have several pages. I enjoyed the trail so much that I took 250 pictures in about five miles! I whittled those down to about 200 while editing them, and will show about 85 of them in this short series. [See entry posted later re: the devastation wrought at Bandelier by the huge Las Conchas wildfire in July.]

About a mile down the Falls Trail

Note: Since dogs aren't allowed on any of the trails at Bandelier (and many other national parks) we left Cody at home in the camper. Bikes aren't allowed, either -- just foot traffic.


The Falls Trail is very scenic and varied. It's moderately easy to hike or run.

The descent to the river is mostly gradual with no steep grades; switchbacks are used when the trail drops significantly near the falls. There are a few rock steps to climb in that area, too. Surfaces range from soft and sandy to uneven and rocky.





First view of tent rocks, eroded remnants of volcanic tuff

Frijoles Creek flows through the canyon down to the Rio Grande. The creek is narrow but runs all year long. It was pretty shallow today.

When the trail dips down close to the creek it is often shaded by trees and shrubs:


Jim inspects an almost-white rock wall.

We crossed the creek several times on wooden foot bridges, then on rocks farther down where flash floods have washed out previous bridges. 


I'd estimate that about one-third of the trail is shaded and two-thirds is exposed. Treed and/or lush green areas are interspersed with rocky, exposed canyon areas all the way down to the river.

We felt plenty warm with temperatures reaching the upper 60s by the time we finished our hike. I don't think I'd want to hike in this high desert terrain when temperatures soar during the summer but it's pleasant during spring and fall. (The website warns of icy conditions along the Falls Trail in the winter.)

Another group of tent rocks

I really enjoyed the wide variety of colorful rocks and interesting rock formations. As you'll see, I took a lot of pictures of rocks!

Porous pink volcanic tuff

The darker rocks are hard, dense basalt.



Jim looks into the canyon as the creek is farther and farther below us.

Before reaching Upper Falls we had some distant views of the Rio Grande. In the next photo I marked the river with a red arrow because it's hard to see the water in this little picture:

Upper and lower falls continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil