Best Alternatives to Bandelier National Monument

By Richard Mahler

Author of "New Mexico's Best"

See the Puye Cliffs and avoid the crowds that usually overwhelm nearby Bandelier National Monument. You will climb wooden ladders among very similar ancient Indian constructions-caves and other cliff dwellings inhabited until 1577 by the ancestors of today's Pueblo tribes, in this instance the Santa Clara. There's a 740-room abandoned village and a reconstructed ceremonial kiva at the top of Puye Mesa, which has a fine view of the Espanola Valley.

Also worth visiting is the Tsankawi unit of Bandelier National Monument, a small and separate enclave of the main park. Half an hour closer to Santa Fe than the main park, Tsankawi protects the ruins of an old mesa-top village and many cave dwellings that are carved into the soft volcanic tufa rock of nearby cliffs. It's fascinating to walk along pathways that have been worn 18 inches deep into the tufa by the erosion of human feet.

"Although it was the height of mid-August tourist season," noted CheapThrills author and Albuquerque Journal writer Frank Zoretich in an article about Tsankawi, "I encountered only three other visitors during the more than two hours I spent there."

If You Go: The Puye Cliffs (505-753-7330) are open from 9 a.m. for an admission fee. There is no charge for still pictures, but a camcorder permit costs $10. A dirt road goes to the top of Puye Mesa for those who don't want to climb ladders from below. Take N.M. 30 from Espanola or Santa Fe, then head west about 11 miles on Santa Clara Canyon Road.

Because of budget cuts, Tsankawi (505-627-3861) has irregular hours and is sometimes closed. There are restrooms and picnic facilities here, but no other services. There is an entrance fee. From Santa Fe, take U.S. 84/285 north to Poajoaque, then N.M. 502 west toward Los Alamos, then N.M. 4 south about 0.25 mile to the Tsankawi trailhead. The main entrance to Bandelier is about 12 miles farther south on N.M. 4.

Richard Mahler is author of "New Mexico's Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer as well, he specializes in travel writing, among other subjects. He has contributed to National Public Radio since 1973 and to the Los Angeles Times since 1979. He has written thousands of articles for more than 100 magazines and newspapers, including The New Mexican, New Mexico magazine, and Santa Fean magazine. A longtime resident of New Mexico, he lives in Santa Fe.

For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit

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