Avoid Crowds … Take Spring Hikes At Bandelier

Trails across the mesas at Bandelier National Monument, March, 2015. Courtesy/NPS
Trails across the mesas at Bandelier National Monument, March, 2015. Courtesy/NPS
With spring breaks starting up all over the country, visitation at Bandelier National Monument is rising and often the limited parking in the lot at the Visitor Center is full at mid-day.
But spring is a good time to take the opportunity to explore some of the other park trails, especially those with trailheads outside of Frijoles Canyon. 
Some possibilities for other hikes include the 1.25 mile (one way) Tyuonyi Overlook Trail and the 2.5 mile (one way) Burnt Mesa Trail. Both have easily-accessed trailheads, are fairly level, and haven’t been affected by the erosion caused by the Las Conchas Fire. Parking is also easy at Tsankawi, the separate section of Bandelier north of White Rock.
This 1.5 mile (round trip) trail to a village site ancestral to San Ildefonso Pueblo involves several ladders as well as scrambling along ancient pathways. Depending on snow conditions the Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail and Sawyer Mesa Trail are other fairly level possibilities; they share the parking area with the  Cerro Grande Trail, which gains more than 1,000 feet going to the top of the peak at over 10,000 feet elevation.
Most of the longer trails involve either following or crossing deep canyons that have been scoured by flash floods resulting from the Las Conchas Fire, providing wild and picturesque landscapes that are more challenging for hikers. Only two trail segments have actually had to be closed due to fire-related erosion: the Falls Trail below Upper Falls and the trail between Upper Crossing and the Rim Trail.
In addition, hikers have recently reported a rockslide in Upper Alamo which, along with ice, makes that trail section dicey. For trails starting from the Visitor Center, hikers can avoid parking concerns by arriving before 10 a.m. or after about 3 p.m. and carpooling if possible, or even starting at the Frey Trail trailhead in Juniper Campground.
Backpacking is also  worth considering. Topo maps, information, and the free Wilderness permits necessary for overnight hikes are available at the Visitor Center. Temperatures often range from freezing at night to 60s in the daytime, so be prepared for a wide range of conditions.
With the Spring Equinox coming up on March 20, hikers and other visitors are enjoying the longer hours of daylight. Other hints of approaching spring include lots of singing birds, especially in the mornings, and chipmunks and rock squirrels that have recently emerged from hibernation. especially in the mornings. It also means that there may still be snow and ice particularly on north-facing slopes and at high elevations, stretches of mud on other trails, and the possibility of thaw-released rocks falling from canyon walls.  
As Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott said, “We hope peope will make use of their spring breaks to get out, get some fresh air, and do some exploring, especially in National Parks like Bandelier.”  For more information, call the Visitor Center at 505.672.3861 x 517 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.any day. The park also has a website,www.nps.gov/band, a Facebook page, BandelierNPS, and uses Twitter.

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