Bandelier National Monument actually covers a fairly large swath of land covering roughly 50 square miles of New Mexico wilderness, and while no one lives there today, the remaining homes of those who once did remain impressive landmarks.
Carved right out of the soft (and ironically-named) tuff rock, the small shelters and their rows of windows pock the side of some of the hills in the natural landscape as though they were created by massive ants. Built across a number of eras between the years 1150 and 1550, the settlement would have been an impressive sight with buildings on the ground and built into the cliffs. Some of the dwellings stood as tall as three stories, supported by beams jammed right into the rock.
To this day, a number of pictographs and ancient artworks can also still be found at the site. The remaining cave dwellings are accompanied by the ruins of buildings constructed on the valley floor, also made of soft volcanic rock. Most of the ruins, cave and otherwise, are grouped fairly closely, but other pueblo relics can be found by those willing to seek out the fainter tracks in the monument.
Some of the houses still have black smoke stains from fire, and some contain petroglyphs. You can climb up into many of the dwellings and experience cave life for yourself. You can also visit the museum at the visitor center to see authentic pottery and tools, as well as models of what the village looked like in its prime.
Know Before You Go
Halfway down the Main Loop Trail, you have two options: return the way you came, or continue to Alcove House, built high on a cliff overlooking Frijoles Canyon. This will involve a lot of ladders, as well as adding about another mile to your hike.
It can get very hot out here, so make sure to wear sunscreen and pack at least a liter of water. Don't take any pottery shards you happen to see. The best policy is to admire them and then toss them gently into a nearby bush to prevent further theft.
Bandelier is widely popular, and sometimes has hundreds of thousands of visitors in a single year. As a result, the parking lot sometimes fills to capacity, especially in the summer. If you are turned away, you can park in the nearby town of White Rock, where a shuttle delivers visitors to the park.