Native American Culture: Walking Ancient Paths
Step into the sacred legacy of ancestral Pueblo people by exploring the earliest cliff dwellings and ceremonial sites in Santa Fe County. These windows through time reveal a world that will never return, but that created the essence of the New Mexico we know and love today.
Bandelier National Monument, about 40 miles west of Santa Fe, provides an impressive introduction to Native American culture in this area. The first humans walked through these canyons more than 11,000 years ago and today you can retrace their steps on more than 70 miles of Bandelier trails. Most people enjoy the Main Loop Trail – a 1.2 mile loop that takes up to an hour. It leads you past the big ceremonial kiva once used for group rituals, the ruins of a 400-room building used for food storage, and the cliff dwellings that were abandoned by the year 1550.
Kids of all ages will love climbing the (easy) ladders into the cliff alcoves where Ancestral Pueblo people once looked out over these beautiful lands. You'll also spot petroglyphs – images of animals and symbols pecked into the rocks with stone chisels and hammers.
The Tsankawi Trail on the Pajarito Plateau is part of Bandelier but located 12 miles from the main park. The Spanish word Pajarito means "little bird" and it was translated from the original Tewa Indian name "tsirege" of the same meaning. You need the agility of a bird to follow the Tsankawi Trail as you have to climb ladders in several places! But you also get a bird's eye view that makes it well worth scouting out this Native American cultural treasure. Take a 1.5 mile walk along the mesa following ancient paths worn into the rocks by the Tewa Pueblo people who lived here in the 1400s. Aside from awesome views, you might see petroglyphs and ancient pottery shards. (Take photos, but leave the historic artifacts where they belong!) The people of San Ildefonso Pueblo are descendants of those who once lived here and these cliff dwellings and unexcavated village ruins are a spiritual home for them. You will fall in love with this special place too!
The Puye Cliff Dwellings form the largest settlement on the Pajarito Plateau and visitors can tour the dwellings that were home to Santa Clara Pueblo ancestors from the 1100s to 1580. See dwellings on the scenic mesa top and cave dwellings cut into the cliff face, and also check out the Harvey House from a rather more recent era! Originally built to cater to railroad travelers, it's the only Harvey House built on an Indian reservation.
A round adobe tower marks the Poeh Museum and Cultural Center in Pojoaque, just 15 miles from Santa Fe. It's an unexpected sight by the main road US Highway 285/84, but the whole museum is designed to surprise, blending the history of Pojoaque and other Northern New Mexico pueblos with exhibits by contemporary pueblo artists. The gift shop crafts are worth a browse too.
On a hot summer's day, there's little as sweet as cooling off by the water in a gorgeous natural environment. Luckily for us, the people of Nambé Pueblo share their ancestral lands with everyone at Nambé Falls Recreation Area, including stunning waterfalls and a lake for fishing.
For a souvenir of your visit, stop in at the historic Nambé Trading Post. This rustic log cabin is packed with antique and contemporary Indian crafts from Navajo rugs to kachinas and old pawn jewelry. The current proprietor was a Hollywood costume designer so you'll find movie costumes from famous Westerns including Dances with Wolves, plus antique saddles and cowboy gear. There's so much here, you can browse for hours
Bandelier National Monument: 15 Entrance Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544
Puye Welcome Center: NM-30, Española, NM 87532
Poeh Museum and Cultural Center: 78 Cities of Gold Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87506
Nambé Falls Recreation Area: 544 Poechunu Poe, Santa Fe, NM 87506
Nambé Trading Post: 20 113A, Santa Fe, NM 87506
Explore Day Trips:
The Miracle of Chimayo: Tastes and Traditions - Whether you want to feed your body, your soul or your apetite for history, charming Chimayo, 28 miles north of Santa Fe, offers the kind of nourishment you won't find anywhere else!
Outdoor Adventures: Escape the Trails - Santa Fe enjoys 325 days of sunshine a year, crystal clean air, stunning mountains, forest and high desert landscapes, and vistas that call people back time and time again.
Turquoise Trail: Legends and Landscapes - A drive along the Turquoise Trail isn't just a gorgeous day out, it's a journey back in time through the colorful histories of old Wild West mining towns.