One of the Atomic City Transit shuttles at the Bandelier Visitor Center. The last day of shuttle service to the park this year is Monday, Oct. 27. Courtesy/NPS
Shuttles carried more than 45,500 passengers to Bandelier between May and October
Monday, Oct. 27, will be this year’s last day of shuttle bus service from White Rock to Bandelier National Monument.
Now that the busy summer season has passed, park visitors will again be welcome to drive down to the Visitor Center area throughout the day.
Many visitors, those local and from far away, wonder why the shuttles are needed. Many remember coming in previous years when they could just drive in. All that changed in June of 2011, when the Las Conchas Fire burned more than 156,500 acres in the Jemez Mountains, including about two thirds of the Bandelier backcountry.
With the watersheds burned bare, summer rains brought huge flashfloods down the canyons. During the one in September 2013, the largest so far, Frijoles Creek carried more than 9,000 cubic feet of water per second. That was more than 10 times what was flowing in the Rio Grande that day.
Knowing such floods would come, precautions had to be taken to protect the irreplaceable historic structures around the Visitor Center. One measure that no one wanted but was clearly necessary was the removal of the road bridge across the creek to the picnic and parking area. Left in place, the logs, boulders,and other debris carried in the floodwaters would have jammed under the bridge, forming an impoundment that could have inundated the historic buildings.
Unfortunately that was also the bridge that allowed visitors to make use of parking spaces on the far side of the creek. Without it, the monument had far fewer spaces than needed during the busy season, and visitors would have spent hours waiting in line for parking.
Instead, the shuttle system was inaugurated that fall, and continued in the succeeding summers, a cooperative effort between Atomic City Transit (ACT), Los Alamos County and Bandelier. ACT trained drivers specially for the route, and obtained buses with big windows and quieter engines. The County provided parking near its White Rock Visitor Center. This year between the start date in late May and the end date in late October, the shuttles carried more than 45,500 passengers, and all with an outstanding safety record. In addition, the ACT provided shuttles for special events at Bandelier, such as the Citizenship Ceremony in July and “Opera on the Rocks” in September.
“Since the Las Conchas Fire, Bandelier has been unable to provide enough parking for the busy season,” Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott said. “We have been lucky to have had such great partners as Los Alamos County and Atomic City Transit to provide a good alternative. We want our visitors to have an excellent park experience, and it wouldn’t have turned out that way without them.”