Falls Trail, which leads southeast from the visitors center, is a showcase for the area’s geology, rather than archaeology—the 2.5-mile route leads down through a canyon to two separate waterfalls. Allow about two hours for the full trip, as the going can be steep and very hot in the summer.
Well before you reach the main entrance to Bandelier, you pass Tsankawi on the east side of Highway 4. Unique pottery excavated in this separate section, disconnected from the main park, suggests that it was inhabited by a different people from those who settled in Frijoles Canyon, and some sort of natural border seems to have formed here, despite a shared cliff-dwelling culture: Today the pueblos immediately north of the Bandelier area speak Tewa, while those to the south speak Keresan. A 1.5-mile loop, with ladders to climb along the way, leads past unexcavated ruins, cave houses, and even a few petroglyphs.
Two popular overnight hikes are to the Shrine of the Stone Lions, two weathered sandstone carvings of mountain lions on a mesa top about 10 miles from the visitors center, and Painted Cave, which requires a 12-mile hike to see a 50-foot swath of rock covered in layers of ancient artwork.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition