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Bandalier National Monument, carved dwellings into the side of a mountain
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Day Trip Heading West of Santa Fe into the Jemez Mountains

This day trip heading west of Santa Fe into the Jemez Mountains provides ample vistas as it winds through Native American lands, ruins of an ancient civilization, the birthplace of the atomic age, and one of the world’s largest dormant volcanoes.

1. San Ildefonso Pueblo

Just 23 miles north of Santa Fe, the San Ildefonso Pueblo (San Ill-day-fon-so) is a flourishing art community. It’s one of the best-known New Mexico Pueblos because of the famous black-on-black pottery, which originated here and was revived in the 1920s by artist Maria Martinez. Painters, jewelry makers, weavers, carvers, sewists, and moccasin makers fill the streets and open their homes to the public for shopping.  Make your way to the Pueblo’s Museum, which houses its visitor center. The Pueblo is generally open to visitors daily from 9am to 4:00pm, except when tribal activities require closing the Pueblo.


Ancient living quarters at Bandelier National Monument’s Frijoles Canyon


2. Bandelier National Monument & Tsankawi

Bandelier National Monument preserves over 33,000 acres of beautifully rugged canyon and mesa country. Protected petroglyphs, rock-carved dwellings, and ancient masonry walls reveal a human history of over 11,000 years.

The Frijoles Canyon inside Bandelier National Monument follows the beautiful Main Loop Trail (1.2 miles of paved pathway), accessed from the visitor center. You’ll find ancestral pueblo homes, kivas (ceremonial structures), rock paintings, petroglyphs, and mountain desert vistas. A trail that extends beyond the Main Loop leads to the Alcove House, a reconstructed rock-carved kiva that hikers can enter via a ladder.

Tsankawi is a detached portion of Bandelier National Monument near White Rock. The access point is right before Bandelier National Monument’s entrance, just north of the intersection of East Jemez Road and NM 4. A self-guided 1.5-mile loop trail provides views of unexcavated ruins, caves, and petroglyphs. A trail guide at the entrance offers a detailed description of the area. NOTE: Tsankawi is closed for construction until mid-October 2023.

3. Bradbury Science Museum

The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos has over 60 interactive exhibits and an abundance of artifacts that explore the Manhattan Project, the Lab’s work on national nuclear defense, and the Laboratory’s research on life sciences, material sciences, space, supercomputing, energy, and the environment.

4. New Mexico Wildfire Burn Scars

Traveling on NM 501/502 & NM 4 in Bandelier and Los Alamos areas, you will see the sacred remains of lush pine tree forests in various stages of regeneration. These burn scars mark the paths of the Las Conchas Fire in 2011, the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000, the Dome Fire in 1996, and the La Mesa Fire in 1977.

5. Valles Caldera

The Valles Caldera is a 13-mile-wide collapsed volcanic caldera in the Jemez Mountains that houses vast mountain meadows, abundant wildlife, and meandering streams. In this 89,000-acre classroom just 15 miles west of Los Alamos on NM 4, you’ll see wildlife, mountain range vistas, and native grasses that provide a relaxing sense of solitude. Enjoy hiking, picnicking, fishing, bicycling, skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and guided tours in this spectacular Preserve.

5. Jemez Springs

Continuing South on NM 4, you’ll travel along the Jemez Mountains to the charming town of Jemez Springs. The natural mineral hot springs (which give the village its name) have a stunning backdrop of the red rock mesas of the Jemez Mountains. The area’s unique geologic history offers various opportunities — miles of scenic views, hiking trails, campgrounds, fishing spots along the Jemez River, or a soak and massage in a local spa. The village offers shops, casual dining, and artist galleries to delight visitors.

Updated August 2023

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