Tsankawi

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6463 - 6656 feet
Cellphone: 2-4 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Tsankawi
Fee: $15/person or $25/vehicle
Attractions: Tsankawi Village, cavates, petroglyphs




The Tsankawi (sank-ah-WEE) Village trail is located in a separate unit of the Bandelier National Monument near White Rock and Los Alamos, New Mexico about 12 miles from the Visitor Center in Frijoles Canyon. The trail is interpretive in nature with 20 numbered stops that coincide with information within the 'Tsankawi Village Trail Guide' that is available at the trailhead. Highlights of the trail include the mesa-top Tsankawi Pueblo as well as numerous caves, that were carved out of the volcanic tuff for dwellings, and petroglyphs. There are 3 short wooden ladders along the trail that make easy work of several short ledges and cliffs.


The Tsankawi trailhead is 3 miles north of the White Rock Visitor Center on Highway 4 where there is a large gravel pullout that is big enough to accommodate RVs. If coming from the other direction the trailhead is 1 mile south of the junction of Highway 4 and Highway 502.


Across the wash from the parking area there is a building with a picnic ramada where you can purchase a Parks pass and trail guide. On the east side of the building you will find restrooms with running water and flush toilets.


From there the easy to follow trail heads toward a nearby mesa.


Within a short distance the first of three ladders comes up.


The ladder provides access to a scenic bench that the trail follows around the rim overlooking the valley below.


Right about a third of a mile from the trailhead the route splits and begins a loop that will take it to the top of the mesa and the Tsankawi Village and then back down to the bench and around the cliffs once again to this point.


Route finding is a simple matter of following the groove that is worn into the volcanic tuff. This 'groovy' characteristic of the trail is one of its unique aspects that makes it fun to hike. In places the groove can be shoulder deep.


To reach the mesa-top the trail must climb over one last cliff. Here hikers have the option of slipping through a crack in the cliff or climbing the second ladder. Both routes are fun and if you have kids with you they might complete both of them before you can do one.


Once on top of the cliff the trail continues across the length of the mesa toward the Tsankawi Village. Down in the valley on the north side of the mesa are the ruins of Dutchess Castle which was the home and pottery-making school built by Madame Vera von Blumenthal in 1918.


The ruin with its 275 ground floor rooms is one massive rubble pile where all the walls have collapsed down to ground level. Short sections of walls can be seen in a couple of spots as well as a few potsherds littering the ground. Be sure to leave everything as you find it and remember that it is illegal to dig, disturb or remove anything from the site.


A little past the village is the third ladder where the trail returns to the bench below. This ladder is a little longer and maybe a bit awkward to get to the top of but at the time seemed to be well anchored and in good shape.


The hike on the bench back around the cliffs is a pure delight as it passes by a number of cavates with scenic views of the valley below.


Cavate (pronounced as 'cave' and 'ate' joined together) is a term for a man-made cave that was coined by 19th century explorer John Wesley Powell to differentiate this type of dwelling from the more common cliff dwellings which were constructed within alcoves and natural caves. Plaster can still be seen on some of the walls.

There are a plethora of petroglyphs on boulders all along the trail. Unfortunately the rocks weather so easily that they haven't held up well. Pretty much anywhere you look, it seems, there is a petroglyph waving back at you.


The Tsankawi Village is a must see stop for any visit to Bandelier National Monument. The trail is a lot of fun to hike and there is a lot to see if you take the time to look around. We actually spent 3 hours taking pictures of petroglyphs and exploring the cavates near the end of the loop. Most visitors that we noticed were probably spending less than half that time so their impression of the Tsankawi Unit of Bandelier might be quite a bit different than ours. The trail guide really adds a lot to the visit by pointing out things that would otherwise be missed so be sure to pick one up before you start. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.