New Mexico: A Park and Monuments

Not far from Santa Fe, the remains of pueblos, cliff dwellings, and volcanic eruptions stand as meaningful reminders of the passage of time.

New Mexico’s natural beauty captivates me.

The Pecos Valley has been continuously unfolding a story of human culture for over 10,000 years. The Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of this country, as well as evidence of a human presence that dates back to over 11,000 years. Ancestral pueblos were established around the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument during the 14th and 15th centuries.

All of these reminds us of the passage of time with an opportunity to reflect on where we came from and where we might be headed.

Kudos to U.S. National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management for their work in preserving these treasures for now and generations to come.

Kiva and Mission Church, Pecos National Historical Park

The Pecos National Historical Park is located 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe in New Mexico. Before you venture into the park, stop by the Visitors Center for a short film. They have laminated trail guides that is provided for free and must be returned.

The pueblo ruins and the mission church reveal the story of those that called Pecos Pueblo their home. In the foreground is a kiva. Kivas are ceremonial and social spaces for Puebloan people. In the background is a mission church that was completed in 1717. After years of oppression, the people of Pecos rebelled against the Spanish authority and destroyed the mission church, which was a symbol of Spanish power.


Although shapes and sizes of kivas may vary, most kivas comprised of a deflector, firepit, ventilator shaft, and a sipapu. A sipapu is a hole in the floor that symbolize a) place of humans' emergence, and b) point of access to the spirits dwelling below.

Pecos Valley

The Pecos Valley lies between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Glorieta Pass. The people of Pecos farmed for generations and the village's strategic location became a critical meeting and trading place for Native Americans and Plains Indians. Another important aspect of its location was access to water from Pecos River, Glorieta Creek, and springs. The pueblo sat atop a narrow ridge that provided clear views to warn of an enemy approach.

Foundations of the Pueblo

An admirable aspect of historical preservation in the USA is to stabilize and repair the existing buildings to reflect the history of the site appropriately. The intention is not to reconstruct. In Pecos, these efforts began in the early 1900s.

Bandelier National Monument

Established in 1916, Bandelier National Monument covers 33,000 acres, with several hikes, a campground, and an opportunity to be a part of the 13th-century Puebloan ruins.

The Ancestral Pueblo people settled in the Frijoles Canyon. The area around the canyon is part of the Pajarito Plateau that was formed by the volcanic eruptions of the Jemez volcano more than a million years ago.

Cliff Dwellings

The pinkish volcanic rock in Bandelier National Monument weathers easily and produces holes. The Ancestral Puebloans would enlarge these holes for storage and living quarters. As you continue on the trail and along the Long House, you will see homes that were built along the base of the cliff. These homes were usually 3-4 stories tall and you can tell by counting the rows of holes on the cliff walls.


Cavates, or cave/carved rooms, were common behind the rooms built at the bottom of cliffs. In spite of the tuff being soft and malleable, carving these rooms using stone tools would have been quite the task. The lower walls of the cavates were usually plastered and the ceilings smoked to make it less crumbly. The cliff dwellings were built into a south-facing canyon wall to catch the warming winter sun.

Alcove House

One of the trails in Bandelier National Monument leads to the Alcove House, formerly known as the Ceremonial Cave. You can access the Alcove House by a steep 140-feet climb on a series of ladders, steps, and narrow paths. The cave was enlarged by ancestral dwellers and includes clusters of rooms and a kiva. After long hikes plus a steep climb, the Alcove House was my perfect spot to pause and ponder.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

The words "Kasha-Katuwe" means "white cliffs" in the Keresan language spoken by the Chochiti Tribe. the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti

Located on the Pajarito Plateau, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument includes a trail that ranges from 5,570 to 6,760 feet above sea level. Start early and you can have the monument to yourself. There are two trails – Slot Canyon Trail and Cave Loop Trail. I recommend the Slot Canyon Trail first and it can be quite narrow at places.

Slot Canyon Trail

Approximately 6-7 million years ago, volcanic eruptions occured in the Jemez Mountains. White and silver-gray pumice and ash fell from the sky and formed an igneous rock called "tuff" while large fragments of igneous rock called "rhyolite" and these range in color from light gray to red. Between eruptions, wind, and water, the volcanic material also picked up soil, sand, and gravel that resulted in the sedimentary rocks layers of various colors – gray, tan, and orange.

Note: Small, rounded pieces of obsidian, also known as "Apache tears," are common. Please do not collect them.

Tapering Hoodoos

Boulder caps can be seen atop the tapering hoodoos and they protect the softer pumice and tuff. The cone-shaped tent rock formations can rise up to 90 feet. These hoodoos, erosional cones, and pedestal rocks form as the result of differential erosion.

The Evolution of Time

Once you reach the end of the trail on the mesa top, you are once again reminded of the remarkable layers of volcanic rock and ash that resulted from a volcanic eruption 6-7 million years ago. If you pause and pay attention, you will see Cochiti Lake in the distance. Take a moment to reflect on where we came from and where we might be headed.

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