Enchanted…More or Less: Bandelier National Monument (Part One)

Ever since I was eleven years old I’ve wanted to visit Bandelier National Monument. A kid in the neighborhood went and came back with interesting pictures. My imagination ran wild. I was a junior Indiana Jones…before Harrison Ford was out of high school.

Bandelier was on my list but it took me fifty-five year to get there.  It was worth the wait. I made the trip this past week along with my daughter. We have been sidekicks in these adventures. We went to Machu Picchu together a few years ago and have explored a few other spots. This trip had a dual purpose — first, of course, was to fulfill my old desire to visit the place. Secondly, I wanted to check out the CCC era structures that were built in the mid-1930s. Bandelier is rich in these 80 year old depression-era structures and actually has the largest concentration of CCC buildings of any national park.

Adolph Bandelier, a self-taught anthropologist, began exploring and documenting the sites in Frijoles Canyon around 1880. The sites were not hard for him to locate…the Cochiti and other local Pueblo people considered the place their ancestral home and guided him to the canyon. He worked there about twelve years and then moved on to sites in Bolivia and Peru. He died in Seville, Spain, in 1914 while researching Spanish colonial records. Others followed in Bandelier’s footsteps and the site was of such importance that it was designated a National Monument in 1916…even though it was nearly inaccessible.

CCC Improvements (Bandelier CCC Historic District)

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was mobilized in 1933 to improve access to the monument and to assist in stabilization of the ruins. There was a small lodge built on the site in 1909 but access was on foot. Everything and everybody came into the canyon on foot until the CCC built the first road in 1933. A quarry was established and new stone structures were built for a new expanded lodge and park administration. The buildings were designed and built in the Pueblo Revival style and are clustered together to resemble a small village. There apparently was a team of architects and designers but the primary architect on the project was Lyle Bennett who also is responsible for the lodge building at the Painted Desert National Park (Petrified Forest). The National Park Service was busy building structures in dozens of parks and NPS architects worked together or individually on various projects. The overall style came to be known as “Parkitecture”.

Park administration and visitor services have expanded and taken over all of the original lodge buildings although some remain as park employee residences. There is a self-guided tour of the cluster of CCC buildings.  I found that the close proximity of the structures, the cut stonework, terraces and some of the detailed stone features all combined to remind me of my time spent among the Inca sites in Peru. These structures were occupied (and not ruins) but are held together in a cohesive plan similar to some of the smaller sites in the Andes. This may just be my impression but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the park site designers had some exposure to the Peruvian Inca sites that were being uncovered in the early 1900s.

The buildings were constructed from blocks of volcanic tuff (consolidated ash) that came from the original quarry. The stone was soft enough that it could be cut into blocks by a crosscut saw at the quarry. The buildings were originally covered with a plaster or light concrete stucco/coating that has since melted away but there are plans to eventually replace the plaster covering. Personally, I like the cut stone look.

There is a strong Spanish and Pueblo emphasis on the interior details and features. Most of the ceilings have large vigas and latillas. The old lodge reception area has a particularly interesting ceiling structure. All of the original furniture and light fixtures were crafted by CCC workers during the construction of the buildings. There is a great deal of detail work and most of it seems intact and well preserved.









Recent Flooding

The Jemez Mountains and the area around Los Alamos have seen some serious forest fires in recent years. Bandelier and Frijoles Canyon are downstream from the large burn areas and have experienced major flooding from flash floods. The flood of August, 2011, came within a few feet of the historic CCC buildings. The important ruins are mostly on higher ground and were not seriously impacted by the floods. There have been several serious floods and the Park Service installed a series of temporary sandbag levees to protect the buildings. There is ample evidence of flooding in the park and several bridges have been washed out.



In Part Two I’ll finally get to the reason why most people go to Bandelier National Monument….be patient.

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 NOTE -The CCC buildings and the historic site at Bandelier National Monument was featured on one of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation’s annual field trips. For more information on the foundation or this or other annual trips go to the foundation’s web page at:  http://newmexicoarchitecturalfoundation.org/





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