Historic Winter Hike: Tsankawi

Tsankawi is an amazing winter hike, only 40 minutes from Santa Fe.  In fact, Tsankawi is great any time of year, but can be hot without cloud cover during summer months.

Tsankawi is a part of Bandelier Nationl Monument, but without handrails, concrete ramps and steps. At Tsankawi you can pretend you are explorer discovering this place for the first time, with waist deep grooves in the paths and a myriad of caves to explore.

The rock here was created when the Valles Caldera blew it’s top, and ash and lava flowed down to form what is now called volcanic tuff.  It is a soft rock that the pueblo people dug into to make the cavates. Cavates are human made caves that were a part of the pueblo peoples settlement.  There are many intriguing cavates to be explored on this hike.

The 1.6 mile loop trail involves three ladders, so be prepared to navigate these. The first one is short (and can actually be avoided if you prefer), while the second can be missed entirely by taking a slot trail, and the third, at the far end of the mesa, is the longest, and unavoidable. 

I like to do the trail “backwards” with younger kids so they can climb up the long ladder instead of down which seems easier for them.  To do it this way, stay right and walk along the edge when the arrow points up to the left. You will also avoid the second ladder this way. There is a drop-off on one side, but the path is wide enough to avoid heart-palpitations, for the most part.

Once you reach the caves, be sure to stop and sit in one together. (Be careful to tread lightly, as it is easy to kick up dust in there, which makes sitting inside no fun.) In the cave, have a snack, tell a story, break out your long lost flute or recorder, or just imagine what life would have been like for the kids who lived here.  Ask your kids what it would be like to live here. What would they do for fun? Would they work in the fields? These are fun ideas to ponder with your kids and can provoke conversations for days and weeks to come.  Next time you take away their screen time, they can pretend they live in a cave and need to find their own fun. Just imagine…

Getting There

Take 285 North to Pojoaque. Take Hwy 502 West toward Los Alamos. Take Hwy 4 toward White Rock. The trailhead is on the left just before the first stop light you see.  Park here and grab a ticket at the kiosk to put in your car which is your entrance fee ($25/car). Pick up a map for $1 at the entrance to learn more while you hike.

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