New facility houses extensive collection of Anasazi artifacts from the archaeological treasure trove of Bandelier National Monument
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Bandelier National Monument, in northern New Mexico, has a new $4 million visitor center with more room to display artifacts from a rich cultural history that extends back some 12,000 years.
“Our museum space has more than doubled and will feature exhibits highlighting the rich Pueblo cultural history and Pueblo relationship to the landscape,” said Bandelier superintendent Jason Lott.
The renovation was funded by park entrance fees. Adding modern amenities will better accommodate visitors and help preserve the integrity of the historic structure, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
By some accounts, the buildings in the monument are the largest group of CCC-built structures that have not been altered by new buildings or alterations. They stand as a living monument to the guiding principles of the National Park Service‘s historic rustic architecture style.
But the real action at Bandelier is in the steep-walled canyons of volcanic tuff. The ash — compressed to rock under vast geologic pressure — served as a refuge for the ancient indigenous people of the region as they headed north from the Four Corners to escape drought. Basalt and obsidian artifacts in the area, along with other traded goods, rock markings, and construction techniques, show that the residents of Bandelier were part of a regional trade network that included Mexico.
In some instances, the developers of the settlement shaped bricks from the harder volcanic material to build dwellings on the canyon floors. In other cases, they carved softer areas of the rock into a linked series of fantastical cave dwellings.
President Woodrow Wilson created the national monument in 1916. It was closed for several years during World War II when the facilities housed personnel working on the Manhattan Project at nearby Los Alamos.
Although signs of habitation in Bandelier go back to the neolithic age, civilization flowered around 1150 and about 1500. By 1600, the canyons were mostly abandoned again as the residents moved to the Pueblo settlements along the Rio Grande.
The main archaeological sites are concentrated in a couple of canyons near the new visitor center, but if you hike the backcountry trails in the monument with open eyes, there are signs of that ancient civilization everywhere, including the famed painted cave, which apparently served as a ceremonial pit stop.
There are dozens of mostly unexcavated archaeological sites scattered around the various side canyons, as well as antler lined circles of cleared ground that may have been the scene of spiritual ceremonies. Wildlife is abundant in the riparian corridors on the valley floors and on the forested mountain slopes.
The visitor center project began in September 2009. The improvements include a ADA-compliant restrooms, doorways, exhibits that meet accessibility standards, and a handicapped accessible ramp.
Other improvements to the visitor center are:
Theater—includes a 14 foot-long screen which features a high definition film set to be revealed for the first time during the grand reopening;
Film—a continuously running documentary, five years in the making, featuring high definition views of Bandelier’s natural surroundings;
Exhibits—new exhibits highlighting Bandelier’s extensive history and the museum’s collection of never-before-seen artifacts, Pueblo art, and interactive exhibits including the sounds of wildlife in the park. All exhibits were created in consultation with affiliated pueblos whose ancestors occupied the area that is now Bandelier National Monument;
Exhibit Room—a new room to help improve accessibility to exhibits. A furnace room was completely removed during the renovation to make space for exhibits;
Bookstore—what used to be the visitor center has been transformed into a new bookstore;
Heating and Electrical System—replacement of outdated electrical and heating systems; and
Restoration of Historical Elements—exposure of original tongue and groove wood floors, windows, and previously hidden hand-carved cabinets.
Bandelier National Monument has a 1.2 mile Main Loop Trail through archeological sites including the Big Kiva, Tyuoni, Talus House, Alcove House, and Long House. Wooden ladders along the trail allow visitors to see inside the dwellings, many of which contain petroglyphs.
Bandelier is located only two hours from Albuquerque via I-25. Take exit US 599 and continue to US 84/285 to Los Alamos. After Pojoaque, merge right to NM 502, bear right onto NM 4 towards White Rock. After Labor Day weekend, fall hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
Entry fees are $6 per person (on foot or by bicycle) for a 7-day permit, or $12 per vehicle for a 7-day permit. For more details or information on the new Bandelier National Monument visitor center, call (505) 672-3861×517 or after hours (505) 672-0343 or visit http://www.nps.gov/band.