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Bandelier National Monument to Santa Fe
Today was my birthday! I woke up early, and Ben served me coffee in bed. Genevieve came in to snuggle and chat with her usual effervescent spirit. Ahh, the day was off to a great start!
We packed up to leave our beautiful campsite in the Bandelier National Monument.
Before leaving, Genevieve and Sebastian wanted to show me their “secret path” near our camping spot.
This morning we were heading back to the Visitor’s Center so that the children could receive their Jr. Ranger badges. They had both worked hard and had completed more than the required assignments.
Our campground was on a high mesa. The road curved around and down into a valley to reach the Visitor’s Center.
Two rangers went over the children’s completed work and presented them each with an embroidered Jr. Ranger patch.
Yesterday we had skipped the museum at the Visitor’s Center because we had to complete our hike before the park closed. This morning, we spent some time wandering through the museum and viewing all of the exhibits.
Genevieve with a model of how the Tyuonyi village might have looked:
Everything was presented beautifully, especially the exhibit about Pablita Velarde, a Puebloan painter who created paintings depicting the life of her people.
Pablita Valarde passed away in 2006. We purchased her book “Old Father, Story Teller,” which contains a number of Puebloan stories that were told to her by her grandfather and other elders.
To celebrate my birthday this morning, I had planned for us to go on a long hike in another wonderful place, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Google maps provided driving directions that would purportedly get us there in an hour and 18 minutes. We were to drive along a two-lane road and make a left on an Indian Service road. Despite looking and looking, we never found that road. (We think that it may have been a dirt road that we mistakenly thought was someone’s driveway.) In any event, we learned later today that the road had a huge washout in the middle, so we were glad that we hadn’t found it.
Ten minutes into our drive, I knew that it was going to be fun:
We saw many trees with blackened trunks:
We stopped to marvel at the vast expanse of the Valle Grande (a caldera), with the Jemez mountains ringing it. The valley was formed over a million years ago by collapse, after a series of volcanic eruptions emitted 500 times more material than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington.
We looked on our map and located another possible road to the Tent Rocks—Plan “B.” The map showed a squiggly dirt road that led to the tent rocks.
We continued driving along the caldera and saw these cows resting by their watering hole:
A sign indicated that we needed to turn left in order to follow our Plan “B” route. We started down a dirt road, which immediately became lumpy and narrow and twisty. In our big motorhome, we didn’t want to risk getting stuck miles from any possible rescue, so we turned around (no easy feat, I must add).
We looked on our map and plotted out Plan “C”, a paved road that turned to dirt half way through. We happened to pass a Ranger Station after driving another 10 miles, and we stopped to confirm that our planned route was a good one. It wasn’t. The ranger told us that the dirt road became narrow and rocky and that she wouldn’t recommend it in an RV.
The Jemez Ranger Station:
So we ended up with Plan “D”, the loooong way, over three connecting paved roads including a freeway.
I had originally planned for us to hike the Tent Rock trails in the morning and then drive an hour to Santa Fe to visit the Georgia O’Keefe museum. Given the longer drive involved with getting to the Tent Rocks (3 hours), I knew that we would never make it to Santa Fe before the museum closed at 5:00 p.m. I told Ben that we would just have to save the museum visit for the next time we passed through New Mexico.
Even with all of the extra driving and the change in plans, we were happy. The scenery though the Jemez mountains was really beautiful, with tall trees and lots of greenery all around. The lush reality was very different from my previous (mis)conception of a parched New Mexican landscape.
We drove through the town of Jemez Springs, which had a pretty red-roofed monastery, a zen center, and many art studios. I didn’t get my camera ready fast enough to snap a photo of the beautiful monastery, but here is the small building that was beside of it:
Other photos of Jemez Springs (the sun was beaming down on the RV windshield, so I the photo quality is poor):
The red and green colors of the nearby cliffs were striking against the vivid blue sky:
Here are some photos I took while we were driving through the Jemez Pueblo, a Native American community.
We passed through several other Native American Pueblos near the Rio Grande River. In the Santo Domingo Pueblo, the houses looked new, and they all blended in with the colors of the earth.
Ben and I saw this “thing” stretching across the horizon in the distance . . . what WAS it? It took us a few moments to realize that we were looking at a giant dam! I had never seen a dam like this before:
To get to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, we had to drive through land owned by the Cochiti Pueblo.
The welcome sign asked that no one take photos or make sketches inside the Pueblo. We respected that request.
Hooray! We arrived at the entrance gate for the Tent Rocks:
We still had 4 more miles on a graded, wide gravel road before we reached the actual Tent Rocks. We rattled our way to the trailhead.
By the side of the road were many cactus plants with bright pink flowers.
We finally arrived at the entrance to the Tent Rocks. I added the state of New Mexico to our RV map, which I had forgotten to do yesterday:
The Tent Rocks area offered two hiking options: a 1.2 mile relatively flat loop, or a 3.2 mile hike that would take us up a narrow canyon, with steep climbs and fabulous views. Hmmm, it wasn’t hard for us to make our choice—we’ll take “Door #2” please!
The trail was fantastic and FUN! The children had a great time, leading us through tight places and up steep rocks. The “tent rocks” were simply breathtakingly beautiful. I was gasping around every corner from the sheer wonder of it all.
I took lots and lots of photos.
Here is Genevieve at the trailhead, plus a close-up of the tent rock at the top of the bluff behind her.
Ben and Sebastian:
The ending point for our hike was the very tip of the bluff behind Ben and Sebastian above.
We hiked along an open area for a short while.
Then we entered a narrow canyon. This tree had a fabulous root system (which shows the erosion of soil that has occurred since the tree started growing):
The rock face had four large chunks in it—perfect for making two “chairs” for Genevieve and Sebastian:
The children enjoyed seeking out small spaces in which to hide:
The canyon got quite narrow in places, with rocks to climb over. The children led us through everything with great confidence and enthusiasm.
This is one of my favorite photos of the landscape:
Here is a rock formation that Ben and I named “Twin Peaks” or, alternatively (thanks to Ben’s imagination), “Fat Woman Diving.”
More views of the hike upwards:
We brought plenty of water and encouraged the children to drink whenever they felt thirsty. We also brought some snacks, which we enjoyed from a lookout point near the top.
I never tired of gawking at the incredible tent-rock formations.
These remarkable cone shapes had their beginnings with the same volcanic explosions that produced the 1000-foot deep ash deposit from which the Bandelier cave dwellings were carved. Many of the cones still have protective boulder caps balanced on top. Once the hard cap-rocks are gone, the soft pumice and tuff start to disintegrate.
Here is a tent-rock with a boulder cap that appears to be barely hanging on:
Some additional photos from our lookout point:
We then hiked to the very end of the trail, out onto a rocky ledge area. The views . . . oh, the views!
I think that it is safe to say that each one of us was having a really terrific time!
Another view of the tent rocks from the top:
On the hike down, we discovered this tiny tent rock with a large boulder cap:
When the volcanoes exploded again and again over thousands of years, they left even layers of ash in colors of grey, light orange, and cream.
As we hiked through the narrowest portion of the canyon, Genevieve and Sebastian ran ahead and hid in a small cavern. Ben and I pretended that we didn’t see them, and we hiked right past their hiding spot. Then we all got a good laugh as they ran to catch up with us!
On our return to the RV, we hiked the rest of the lower loop.
Sebastian caught a ride:
Our trail map showed a “Cave” that turned out to be too high for the children to explore. They were disappointed, as the title “cave explorer” ranks very high on their list of expertise.
As we hiked onward, we were all delighted to find a lizard with beautiful striped markings:
The tent rocks on the lower loop looked exactly like a group of teepees:
While they were interesting, their beauty paled in comparison to all of the large, multicolored tent rocks that we had seen on the other trail.
I was very glad that we hadn’t just chosen the shorter loop, as we would have missed so much beauty. With that said, the upper trail was beyond wonderful—the “Wow” rating was at the top of the charts for our family.
I had been a bit wary of doing such a long hike with the children, but I didn’t hear a single complaint the entire time. Genevieve and Sebastian both thought that it was an incredible adventure.
I am surprised that Kashi-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is not more well-known. I had never even heard of it until this past May when I was finalizing our Santa Fe plans and wanted something “special” to do with the kids on my birthday. I want to shout out that EVERYone should experience the incredible magic of this place!
We then drove to Santa Fe, passing wide areas of desert that was sparsely scattered with flowering cactus plants.
For dinner tonight, we ate at Harry’s Roadhouse on the Old Las Vegas Highway leading away from Santa Fe.
The food was exceptional, from the divine homemade bread to my perfectly cooked blackened catfish with grits and collard greens—Yum! The homemade pecan pie for dessert was the ultimate finale, complete with a candle so that I could make a birthday wish.
We checked into our campground at 6:40, with just enough time for the kids to get a quick swim in the pool.
I will definitely remember this special day.
<< Day 11: Silverton to Bandalier National Monument | Day 13: Day 13: Santa Fe to Alamagordo, New Mexico >>
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