Bandelier National Monument is world-renowned, but one of its many splendors, Tsankawi, remains relatively unknown. The ancestral Puebloan people who settled here, on a high plateau in the 1400s, built their homes on top of a mesa. Below, they carved caves into soft volcanic stone next to a cliff base. In the Tewa language used by the ancient residents, Tsankawi means “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti.”
Walk Tsankawi’s trail and you’re on an ancient pathway worn into rock by those who once lived here. It’s part of a network of trails they used to journey from the mesa top to the canyons below and to nearby villages. Along the 1.5-mile loop trail, you’ll pass through narrow passageways and scramble up and down ladders to visit cave rooms and unexcavated ruins. The reward for your journey is a view of impressive petroglyphs and astounding vistas of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. Tsankawi lies about 12 miles from Bandelier’s Visitor Center, far from the summer crowds that mob the monument’s main loop. It’s a favorite with locals, who know to check the forecast before they go as the trail turns slippery in rain and snow.
NOTE: Bandelier National Monument has
temporarily closed its Tsankawi Unit. It is expected to reopen before summer season 2024. The rest of Bandelier National Monument remains open during the Tsankawi unit closure.