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The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail

The Frey Trail descending into Frijoles Canyon, seen from the Overlook

Even after years of visiting the park, I’ve discovered that Bandelier National Monument still has pleasant surprises concealed within its boundaries. Bandelier is one of the most popular day trips out of Santa Fe, just about an hour’s drive west of town, and most visitors feel amply rewarded with an excursion to the cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon, and the pleasant walks along the little Rito de Frijoles, burbling in the shade of the singing Ponderosa pines and the warm glowing walls of the Bandelier Tuff. But the park has an extensive network of trails throughout its bounds, and some of these are easy walks that give a different perspective on the way the Ancient Ones lived – and which will reward you with some wonderful views of Frijoles Canyon and the archeological sites it shelters.

This Sunday’s adventure started near the old Amphitheater not far from the entrance to the Park. On my last visit to Bandelier I walked down the Frey Trail, which is the pre-1939 way of getting down into Frijoles Canyon, and at the brink of the descent, admired a precipice of Bandelier Tuff off to the west:

Descending into Frijoles Canyon on the Frey Trail

A closer look at the map showed another trail not far from this one, that actually leads to the top of this cliff. It’s called the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, and of course I immediately made a mental file to have a walk on it on my next visit to the Park. This past Sunday was a perfect opportunity for a winter hike on the sunny flanks of the Jemez Mountains, and after throwing a few things in the day pack, made the short drive west to Bandelier and the Juniper Campground just inside, where the trail begins.

The sign at the trailhead

Your walk begins in a grove of fragrant Ponderosa:

Off on our adventure

Much of the walk winds across the dry, sparsely wooded top of the plateau just north of Frijoles Canyon, which still shows signs of stress from our drought around 2005. There are a surprising number of archeological sites up here, with small interpretive signs to enhance your stops:

Partially excavated ruins just off the Tyuonyi Trail, up on the mesa

There are more modern cultural features up here too, like this rustic corral:

A corral near the old CCC Amphitheater

Distant views of the volcanic mountains that surround Bandelier lie off to the south and west:

The San Miguel Mountains and sharp Boundary Peak southwest of Bandelier

In only 45 minutes of easy walking you reach the Overlook, perched high above the ruins of Tyuonyi Pueblo:

Looking down from the Overlook at Tyuonyi and the Visitor Center

This is a perfect place to sit and contemplate the vast history, cultural and natural, of old New Mexico.

Contemplating the past

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail loops back to the trailhead across the mesa so you don’t have to retrace your steps back to the Amphitheater. There are beautiful views up Frijoles Canyon:

Looking west up Frijoles Canyon

And dizzying ones down:

Just above the ladders to Alcove House, looking down

Bandelier, like all National Parks and Monuments, is a wild place at heart, and evidence of the more brutal side of Nature isn’t hard to find:

A murder site along the trail, thoroughly picked over

Past and present mingle to thoughtful eyes. Modern pine cones holding new life lie over a bed of the Cajete Pumice that showered over the mesa perhaps only 40,000 years ago:

Pine cones and pumice littering the mesa

The return trail winds through an airy forest of Ponderosa before returning you to your car:

Fire and drought-thinned forest typical of the Pajarito Plateau

This was a very rewarding walk, and a perfect one for a late winter day in New Mexico when you need to get out for some sunshine and exercise, but don’t feel like facing the icy and somewhat muddy trails in Sangre de Cristo Mountains nearer Santa Fe. So be sure and put the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail on your mental list of things to do when you come visit us!

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