View from the end of the Upper Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail, January 2017. Courtesy/NPS
Trailhead area for Upper Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail and Sawyer Mesa Trail, along State Route 4 near the junction with Forest Road 289. Courtesy/NPS
This is an ideal time for enjoying winter in and around Bandelier National Monument, with snow at higher elevations and lots of sunny days.
Anyone comfortable in winter conditions can readily find a number of opportunities available in the park. The Visitor Center and Main Loop Trail in Frijoles Canyon are open every day 9-5, except when the park closes temporarily due to snow or ice conditions making roads and trails hazardous.
On the milder winter days it’s not necessary to walk or hike long distances to enjoy the outdoors. Short walks for birdwatching, photography, or just taking in the quiet of the canyon and the sound of the creek running through stones and ice, can provide a memorable experience for individuals or families.
According to Superintendent Jason Lott, “Visitors used to the hot, busy summer days are surprised and pleased at how peaceful and beautiful Bandelier is in winter. We encourage people to dress warmly in layers and come give it a try.”
Other trails are not cleared or groomed, but winter boots and perhaps a walking stick are usually sufficient for conditions on the Falls Trail, Burnt Mesa, or the Tyuonyi Overlook. More ambitious hikers heading out into the Bandelier Wilderness would do well to bring along ice traction devices, something like “yaktrax”, for icy conditions often found on trails on shady or north-facing canyon walls.
As of late January there is enough snow on the Upper Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail or the Sawyer Mesa Trail, formerly known as the Blue and Orange Ski Trails, for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There may be trees in places across these trails, especially at the far end of the Sawyer Mesa Trail. Some areas of these trails were impacted by the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, and visitors should be mindful of falling branches and trees.
It is recommended that these burned areas be avoided during windy days. The parking lots near the turnoff to FR 289 have been plowed regularly this winter; FR 289 itself is gated closed to public car travel until spring. More opportunities are available in the Valles Caldera National Preserve and surrounding areas of the Santa Fe National Forest.
Hikers are reminded that pets are not permitted on Bandelier trails and cross-country skiers everywhere really appreciate it when snowshoers observe the courtesy of walking a little distance to the side of ski tracks. Everyone is encouraged to remember to have sunglasses, sunscreen, water, gloves, a hat, and shoes that provide traction.
For further information on conditions in Bandelier, contact the monument Visitor Center at 505.672.3861 x 517. General park information can be found at the website, www.nps.gov/band, and Facebook page, BandelierNPS.