Bandelier National Monument and Manhattan Project National Historical Park

10/6/16 (Thursday) in Pena Blanca, NM (Tetilla Peak Recreation Area-COE)

We had a good night’s sleep and it was a beautiful day so we wanted to visit the two NPS places today. First, though, John called Verizon for help with getting his email on his phone. That took until after 9, so I got everything ready, like water and our picnic lunch. We had to make a detour to the Pena Blanca Post Office to pick up our mail, then on to the Bandelier National Monument. It was created in 1916, but there were no decent roads until the CCC came in 1933. The buildings and trails they also built are still there, for us to use today. We thought the name, Bandelier, was for the belt of ammunition that fighters wear. We found out that’s spelled bandolier. This monument is named after the man, Adolph FA Bandelier, (Swiss) who spent his life doing archeological fieldwork in the southwest, especially in this area. It was so extensive that it established the foundation for much of modern southwestern archeology. He was instrumental in getting Bandelier National Monument established.

Even though this place is 10 miles from us as the crow flies, driving it took 1.5 hours to get to White Rock Visitor Center where we caught the free shuttle that took another 25 minutes to get to the Monument.

We toured the exhibits at the Visitor Center there and enjoyed the little movie. By then it was time for lunch, so we enjoyed our picnic near the Main Loop Trail. Then along the way we saw the ancient caves that the Cochiti Pueblans had carved out of the “tuff” rock. This is from the ash blown from the Valles Caldera, 600 times the explosive power of Mt. St. Helen. This volcanic ash had been pressed into the rock forms we saw in this area.

We saw the remains of a Pueblo village. The first photo is what we saw, when we were above the trail, and the second is a rendition of what it was like when people lived there in the 1500’s.


A couple caves we climbed up ladders to see. These people were a little shorter than us (5’0” for women and 5’6” for men), but I think even they would have had to stoop to be in these places. The last was a weaving room, large enough to stand in. The holes near John’s feet were for weaving loom anchors.



Weaving Room with loom anchors by John’s feet.


Ladder to cave you saw John in. 

Next we saw the Long House, where they built houses against the rock wall. The rows of holes in the rock indicate where another floor was built. Then they had caves they accessed above those as well. We saw petroglyphs and pictographs in that area as well, where they could stand on the roof of their house.


Long House


Close up of Long House


Turkey Petroglyph


Pictograph of design

We continued on the next trail to the Alcove House, where you get to go up 140 vertical feet via steps and 4 ladders to reach that cave house. This was a ceremonial chamber excavated in 1908.


This was such fun! We hurried back to the shuttle stop, though, because we still wanted to get to the other place in Los Alamos. On our way we saw an Abert’s squirrel. They are SO cute, but since he was running away from us and we wanted to catch the 2:30 shuttle, I didn’t attempt to take his picture. Here is one from our park brochure.


Abert’s Squirrel

Thankfully Los Alamos was just 15 minutes from White Rock. We took Hwy 509 and enjoyed amazing views.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is so new, it was just opened on November 11th 2015. It consists of a small building with a small exhibit and a few chairs to watch a video on a TV. They DO have a restroom, at least! Also, no fee required. It will take some time developing a phased access to properties currently not accessible. The best part is the lady volunteer, whose father was one of the original scientists there, shared her experiences and knowledge. Oppenheimer was familiar with the area, how remote it was, with lots of canyons to test things. He used to ride horses here and continued to do that when he lived there. She shared that her mom was sure when they tested “the bomb” that it would destroy the atmosphere, so she took their daughter to Kansas. In time she received a post card from dad that “the cat was screaming all night”. That was their code for the bomb had been set off, the atmosphere was fine and they could come back to Los Alamos. There had been a school: Los Alamos Ranch School there, so the government took over those buildings, as well as made the local homesteaders move away. We then took the little walking tour where we saw the Fuller Lodge (this used to be the Ranch School dining building) and Oppenheimer’s home (now occupied by a private party). Most of the real historical elements are behind fencing-only those with government clearance can go there. Scientists still work there today, and a small town of civilians has grown up nearby.

la-1 Oppenheimer and General Groves sculpture

la-2 Fuller Lodge

la-3 Oppenheimer’s Home

Something I learned that never realized: Einstein wrote a letter to FDR telling him that he felt Germany was developing an atomic bomb, which prompted an American effort to built it first. The Manhattan Project in Los Alamos was tasked with developing the world’s first atomic weapons. In 2004 the government created the Manhattan Project National Historical Park which includes 3 locations that comprise this park: Los Alamos, NM (Project Y), Oak Ridge, TN (Site X) and Hanford, WA (Site W).

About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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