Bandelier and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monuments, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and Manhattan Project NHP

This last weekend, I finally headed out to visit some of the national parks around the Los Alamos area. On Saturday, I went to Bandelier National Monument and then drove up to Valles Caldera National Preserve, doing some light hiking at both. Not finished quite yet, I drove back into Los Alamos and visited the open areas of Manhattan Project National Historical Park. On Sunday, I then made the drive down to Kasha-Katuwe National Monument for the available hiking there.

Bandelier National Monument

As I’ve been staying outside of Los Alamos for a couple of weeks now, I’ve been staring at Bandelier National Monument, waiting for an opportune time to go visit. With snowfall and inclement weather finally passing, Saturday proved itself to be a wonderful time, so I headed over and got into the visitor center.

The main loop trail at Bandelier goes through several old pueblos and cave dwellings once inhabited by the native people who once called this area home. With the beautiful scenery in and above the canyon, I enjoyed hiking, despite the majority of the trail being absolutely full of other people. Of course, this is really only scratching the surface of the monument, but I was excited to mark this park off my list.

Valles caldera national preserve

From Bandelier, I looked up Valles Caldera National Preserve and quickly decided that I still had time to go do some visiting and light hiking at the nation’s newest national preserve. I’ve been staring at this preserve on topographic maps, excited to see the giant volcanic caldera.

Driving up the winding road climbing up the Jemez Mountains, seeing more of Bandelier National Monument, I finally entered the caldera for some wonderful views of the grassland within and the peaks surrounding it.

I drove into the visitor center for the preserve and stopped in for some information on available hiking. The backcountry roads going deeper into the preserve were closed until summer, but I was able to do two small hikes starting from the visitor center, one around a lava dome and one going to an old stock pond. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and I’m excited to think that some day, I’ll be able to come back and explore more of this park. Due to overgrazing over the years, the recovery that is just beginning as it is now a national preserve should prove to be even more beautiful over the years ahead as well!

Manhattan project national historical park

From Valles Caldera, I headed back into Los Alamos. Looking at the time, I decided that I still had plenty of time to drop into the Manhattan Project National Historical Park visitor center. I watched a short video describing this new national park and chatted with the ranger attending the visitor center before continuing on to do the walk around town, viewing the accessible areas of the park.

Unfortunately, a lot of this park in Los Alamos isn’t open to the public, and what is open is largely monuments to what once stood on these grounds. Nonetheless, through the historical museum, plaques, and the science museum along the way, I was able to learn a great deal about the history of Los Alamos before, during, and after the Manhattan Project took over this area, leading to the creation of this beautiful town. I really enjoyed my walk around town before returning to camp for the night.

Kasha-katuwe tent rocks national monument

On Sunday, with the weather looking even better than the forecasts had originally shown for the day, I decided it was a wonderful day to take the longer drive down to Kasha-Katuwe.

Unfortunately, the only part of this park open to the public is a rather short loop hike and a steep but also short offshoot to the top of the mesas. The hoodoos and canyons along the hike are absolutely worth the stop, and the views are absolutely beautiful all along. This one was busy and full of people as well, but I still thoroughly enjoyed my time before heading back to camp for the week.

Leave a Reply