Trip Report: Bandelier National Monument

Location: Bandelier Nation Monument

State: New Mexico

Miles: 8

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

Friday, March 11 – I worked until 3:30 and left for the airport. I flew into Austin by way of Dallas to meet up with eduk8er. He picked me up outside the baggage claim area around 11:30 PM and we hit the road, headed for New Mexico. We drove until about 3:00 AM or so and pulled off into a rest stop to catch a few winks before continuing the journey.

Saturday, March 12 – Awake at 6:30 AM, eduk8er started up the truck and we were “on the road again”. We stopped briefly for breakfast along the way and the miles started rolling by. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived in Clines Corner, NM. We called power_hiker from there, around 6:00 PM or so, and told him we’d probably be able to make Juniper Campground in Bandelier by about 7:30. When we arrived, we were greeted by power_hiker and CuervoBravo. They waited for us to get there to light the campfire. CuervoBravo had driven up from Socorro, NM to provide us with transportation from the Bandelier Visitor Center to our trailhead (what a nice guy!). We ate supper and laid out our sleeping pads and bags on the ground, then sat around the fire getting to know these two new companions.

Sunday, March 13 – I got up around 9:00 AM and the other three were already stirring. They had made and eaten their breakfasts, so I made mine while eduk8er repackaged our food for the week. Once done and cleaned up, I dragged my pack out of his truck and we began loading up for our adventure in the backcountry of Bandelier. We left for the Visitor Center and once there, we transferred our gear to Cuervo’s van. Eduk8er went in to get the permit and the three of us wandered around, taking in some of the sights. I checked out the gift shop and books while we waited. When eduk8er had our permit in hand, we piled into Cuervo’s van and headed for the Apache Spring trailhead. When we got there, a ranger pulled up to make sure we had everything in order. We were finally on the trail! We hiked in about ½ to ¾ of a mile and met up with some pockets of snow. As we made our way further up the trail, there was more snow, crusted over enough to walk, at least for a few steps at a time, before post-holing – sometimes up to our knees. After following this snowy track for awhile, eduk8er suggested that maybe we should go back to the van and enter Frijoles Canyon by way of the trailhead out of Ponderosa Campground. That is what we did. The trail from Ponderosa was very easy going. It was great to be out in this magnificent forest on my way into a land I had never been to before. We reached the canyon rim and began our descent. Man! What a lot of switchbacks there were! Being from the east, I usually don’t encounter more than four or five switchbacks on a section of trail at any given time. On this descent, I lost track of their number. Each turn gave us a beautiful view. The day was mild with hardly a breeze, and I could smell the butterscotch scent in the air from the Ponderosa pines lining this canyon wall. We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and eduk8er remarked that he didn’t remember ever seeing so much water in Frijoles Creek. We sure wouldn’t be lacking water on this trip! We stopped to eat lunch at Upper Crossing Junction. It felt good to drop the pack, lean back against a comfortable rock and have something to eat and drink. CuervoBravo had accompanied us in but was going to head back home this afternoon, so we visited a while longer until he had to go. We packed up and hiked further down the trail finding a nice campsite to set up for the night. We strung tarps, laid out sleeping pads, sleeping bags, food and other necessary gear, organizing our site. Camp chores took up some of the time – filtering water, setting up the stoves, selecting food for supper and preparing our evening meal. Just before dark, I noticed a light sprinkling rain beginning to fall. During the night, as the temperature fell, the rain turned to snow.

Monday, March 14 – We woke up early to the sounds of eduk8er smacking the tarp to knock off the accumulated snow. There was about 8-10 inches of the white stuff on the ground already and it was still coming down – thick! We ate a hastily prepared breakfast, packed up quickly and headed down the trail toward the Visitor Center and our cars (where we would pick up the rest of our supplies and gaiters). I also discovered that I had left my gloves in the truck, so I improvised and used a pair of wool socks for mittens. We shuffled through the powdery snow, still accumulating on the trail, crossing the creek many, many times. Some of the crossings were quite easy, using the log bridges that were in place. Other crossings were done gingerly stepping from rock to log, to rock, to shore. Even though I was as careful as possible, I still managed to occasionally slip into the stream, a couple of times going in over my boot tops – OOPS! That was COLD water! When we reached the approximate halfway point to the Visitor Center, eduk8er found a nice, dry overhang/cave so we stopped and made something hot to drink and ate some lunch. After a half-hour break, we continued slogging our way to the VC and our vehicles. It ended up taking almost seven hours to go approximately 6¼ miles. The VC (and the entire Monument) was closed but there were a couple of rangers at the office. We got in our cars, warmed up, and headed into the closest town – Los Alamos. When we were close to the VC, power_hiker asked me if I would mind if we spent tonight at a motel – I told him I was going to suggest the same thing, but didn’t want them to think I was “wussing out”… LOL! We did just that – got a motel room, hung out our wet gear all over the room, took hot showers and went out for a hot meal. It was nice sleeping in a warm DRY bed that night.

Tuesday, March 15 – When I got up it was still snowing. We turned on the weather channel to find out that the northeast section of the state was totally shut down due to the weather. This ended up working to our advantage because we used this down time from the trip to work out the details for the Wind River trip in July. We went to the grocery store and I went shopping for a pair of waterproof boots. In the evening we walked to a nearby restaurant for supper and some local brews. You’ve got to try the Woodchuck Cider sometime. It was awesome.

Wednesday, March 16 – Feeling a touch of cabin fever by now, it was nice to finally see the sun. We packed everything up and went back to Bandelier. The contrast of the deep blue sky and the stark white of the snow on the ground was unbelievable! We took the loop hike from the Visitor Center to the village ruins and cliff dwellings, checking out some of the caves, wall paintings and petroglyphs. During our travels, we saw mule deer nearby. We decided not to go out to the backcountry because of the weather, so we ended up back at Juniper Campground where this adventure started. We sat around the campfire, made dinner and talked about everything that had happened. Tonight we slept out on the ground.

Thursday, March 17 – Got awake around 9 or 9:30. Not feeling in any hurry today, we had a casual breakfast. We decided to head towards home today – power_hiker going back to Colorado to hopefully beat another weather front moving into his area, and eduk8er and I headed south through Santa Fe and Albuquerque hoping to meet up with CuervoBravo for dinner in Socorro. We stopped at the REI in Albuquerque to check out a few things. While I looked at gore-tex bivy sacks, eduk8er picked up a few items, including a new Jet Boil stove. We made it to Socorro by about 4:30 and I was able to raise CuervoBravo on the telephone. We met up with him at a local steakhouse and had a great time together over dinner. He was heading up to Taos on Friday morning for the weekend to do some cross-country skiing with friends, so it wasn’t a late night. We ended up staying in Socorro.

Friday, March 18 – Getting a pretty early start, we left for Three Rivers to visit the Petroglyphs National Recreation Area. On the way, we passed through the Valley of Fires, a series of lava beds covering a fairly large area south toward White Sands. We spent about 3 hours searching the rocks and taking photos of various rock pictures we discovered. Leaving the petroglyph site, we headed over to the Lincoln National Forest where Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett once roamed and the home of Smokey the Bear. We stopped briefly in Capitan at the Smokey Bear Museum and looked around in a couple of souvenir shops, then got back on the road. The next stop was Roswell. Yes, the site of the infamous UFO crash in 1947. Almost all the local businesses were decorated in an outer space theme – even the streetlights resembled alien faces. After eating supper, we headed to Texas and stopped for the night in Big Spring.

Saturday, March 19 – We were up and on the road by shortly after 9:00 AM. Our final destination was the airport in Austin, where I was scheduled to catch my flight back to Philadelphia at 7:00 that night. It was a long day on the road and we got to the airport by 4:30 – plenty of time to check in. I arranged for an earlier flight to Dallas because a severe wind and rainstorm was blowing up. Eduk8er and I said our good-byes and I told him I was really looking forward to the Winds trip in July. My flight arrived in Philadelphia about 20 minutes later than planned – around 1:00 AM. From there it was about a two hour drive home.

We got a taste of the Southwest in more ways than one. There were lots of different weather patterns, terrific food and local microbrews, and we made a couple more new friends – power_hiker and CuervoBravo. I’d like to attempt this trip again next year on spring break – maybe the weather will be more appropriate for spring than this year was!

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