Main Loop Trail and Ceremonial Cave Trail
A paved walkway leads out the back of the visitors center into Frijoles Canyon, passing the ruins of the major settlements—or at least the ones that have been thoroughly excavated.
You first reach Tyuonyi (chew-ON-yee), a circle of buildings that was settled for about 200 years beginning in the 1300s. Built of bricks cut from tuff (the volcanic rock that makes up most of the area) and adobe plaster, some of the 250 rooms at one time stood several stories tall.
The trail then goes up next to the cliffs, dotted with small caves dug out of the soft stone, and to Long House, the remnants of a strip of condo-style buildings tucked into the rock wall. Paintings and carvings decorate the cliff face above. If you’re here near sunset, keep an eye on the bat cave near the end of the strip, home to about 10,000 of the animals.
After Long House, the trail continues another half mile to the Ceremonial Cave, where you can climb to a restored kiva high in the cliffs—well worth the extra mileage, unless you have trouble with heights (140 feet of ladders are involved).
Rangers run free guided walks around the main loop a few times a day, or you can pick up the trail guide for a small fee in the visitors center.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition