Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico scores high on my list of places to visit with kids. But if you visit Bandelier, you haven’t seen it all!
There is yet another amazing spot here besides the main area that can be found in a remote and detached part of the monument: TSANKAWI RUINS TRAIL.
Tsankawi Ruins Trail is located some 11 miles away from the main entrance to the monument, in the Tsankawi section of Bandelier. It may be a bit tricky to find, but it’s right off a main road and parking is available (and so are restrooms). (Scroll down for a map and directions.)
This 1.5-mile trail is not too well known or very frequented due to its remote location, but it has it all (and more!) and is easy enough to do with kids.
In fact, don’t expect this hike to be quite like anything else you may experience in Bandelier!
Tsankawi – a very special visit to a very special place…
Tsankawi is a pueblo over 600 years old that is undeveloped and unexcavated.
What you’re going to find here is abundant undisturbed history as the trail takes you along centuries-old paths of the Ancestral Puebloans that once called this place home.
The trail also passes right through the Ancestral Pueblo ruins with ancient artifacts scattered around. How awesome is that?!
Tsankawi Ruins Trail
This is supposed to be a pretty straightforward and well defined loop trail.
Yet, apparently trail inept, we got lost here.
Once right at the beginning, and then I don’t know how one gets lost at the top of a pretty narrow mesa but we managed to. For quite a while we couldn’t locate the ladder that brings your down from the mesa top.
You can either walk the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. I have overheard someone at the visitor center suggesting to walk Tsankawi Ruins Trail counter-clockwise which we did not do, but that would have made things A LOT easier because you can’t miss the ladder that way.
The trail has a number of place markers, so you’ll want to pick up a pamphlet at the trailhead for a small donation which will give detailed information about all the interesting places you’re about to see.
Timing is important here. This is an exposed trail and one you don’t want to be stuck on in the dark.
Tsankawi Ruins Trail has a bit of an elevation to it and ranges from a pleasant stroll to having to tackle a few obstacles – just the perfect amount for a fun hike!
Climbing two ladders is required on this trail, one is optional. You’ll find areas with steep drop-offs here, so caution around children will be necessary in some places. There is some minor rock scrambling involved here, and a fair amount of uneven terrain.
What you’ll see at Tsankawi
Tsankawi Ruins Trail follows an ancient path along the mesa and brings you to a mesa-top pueblo.
The trail passes by numerous cavates (cliff dwellings made by enlarging natural cavities in the volcanic rock). You’ll be able to enter those that are located right on the trail.
When you find yourself atop the mesa, it’s a nice quiet stroll through a charming pinion-juniper woodland. The views from up here are just breathtaking!
The most challenging segment of this trail is also what sets it apart from other hikes in the area.
Parts of the ancient path have been worn deep into the soft rock from literally centuries of foot traffic. These footpaths came to life some hundreds years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo People going about their daily lives.
If only the tuff could talk…
You may be a little unimpressed when you first arrive at the actual village high on the mesa top. What was once a bustling Ancestral Pueblo is now mostly buried under a pile of rocks.
Besides a few wall remnants, it’s all your eyes can see.
Tsankawi was occupied from the 1400s A.D. to the late 1500s.
In its heyday, it consisted of underground kivas and around 275 ground-floor rooms that were 1-2 stories high. The rooms were laid out in a roughly circular shape, much like Tyuonyi in the main section of Bandelier.
There are petroglyphs to be seen here along this trail, made by the Ancestral Pueblo People and later on by Spanish explorers. They’ve proven to be very faint though and easy to miss. We accidentally skipped one and missed all the rest. Booo. Hopefully you’ll have a better luck!
Our trip to Tsankawi:
Directions to Tsankawi:
There are no signs on the road from either direction. The only signs you’ll find are on the parking lot fence.
Parking is on an honor system. If you don’t have a Bandelier permit or a park pass, you’ll be able to pay at the kiosk on-site.
Coming from Santa Fe:
Turn from State Highway 502 to State Highway 4. Less than ¼ of a mile later, you’ll see a long gravel parking lot on the left hand side of the road. If you get to a traffic light, you’ve gone too far.
Coming from Bandelier:
Tsankawi is located right after you pass the 3rd traffic light (junction with Jemez Road). There will be a long pull-out on the right side of the highway. If you get all the way to State Highway 502, you’ve already passed it.
Tsankawi is a sacred site that plays an important spiritual role for the Ancient Pueblo People descendants living nearby. Treat with respect, leave only your footprints, and don’t remove any artifacts you find.