Bandelier National Monument
One of New Mexico’s most beautiful ancient sites, Bandelier (505/672-3861, www.nps.gov/band, $12/car, plus $5 pp) comprises 23,000 acres of wilderness, including the remarkable Frijoles Canyon, which is lined on either side with cave “apartments,” while the remnants of a massive settlement from the 16th century occupy the valley floor.
The Edenic canyon and the fun of clambering up ladders and around caves make for a grand day out—but everyone else thinks so too, and the place is packed from late April through the end of the summer. Come early on a weekday, if at all possible, or plan an overnight hike in the backcountry to avoid the crowds.
Better still, join a torch-lit, silent night walk into Frijoles Canyon, a trip that sparks the imagination. They typically fall on Thursday nights; check online (www.nps.gov/band) for the schedule.
Start at the visitors center (8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily June–Aug., 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Apr., Sept., and Oct., 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily Nov.–Mar.), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, almost 50 years after self-taught anthropologist Adolph Bandelier first set foot in Frijoles Canyon, brought there by Cochiti guides. The information center has a small museum and the usual array of maps and guides; pick up a Falls Trail guide even if you’re not hiking that way, as it has good illustrations of the various plants and wildflowers that grow in the area. You can also get a free backcountry permit and thorough topo maps here.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition