Alibi V.28 No.48 • Nov 28-Dec 4, 2019 

Environment

Oh Say Can You See Bandelier?

From monument to park and preserve

A kiva at Bandelier National Monument
A kiva at Bandelier National Monument
/ Public Domain

Late last week, US Senator Martin Heinrich announced plans to put forward legislation that would designate Bandelier National Monument as a National Park and Preserve.

The legislation is particularly important at this point in our American cultural journey, we reckon. That’s why Weekly Alibi sat in on a press phone call with the Senator this past Thursday.

But before putting down the details of that important declamation from a Senator who has demonstrated a deep commitment to the people and the environment of New Mexico, here’s a little background on the place, the people, the process, the stakeholders and the need for a new National Park.

The Place

Bandelier, a National Monument as designated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, spans more than 30,000 acres that mostly comprise a canyon and surrounding plains situated right where Sandoval County bumps up against the tiny yet totally formidable Los Alamos County. The northeast corner of the more sizeable Santa Fe County lies just to the east.

The National Park Service, which administers the area, writes on their website that access to the area is “relatively easy compared to the past.” Two trips to the National Monument by this reporter within the past 20 years reveal that the operative word in that first sentence, “relatively,” says it all. This past summer, the Service required that most visitors to Bandelier take a shuttle bus from the White Rock Visitor’s Center to the main visited areas.

That’s because the monument is such a popular tourist destination. During the other three seasons, it is still possible to drive directly to the main part of the monument, albeit on a windy and narrow New Mexican two-lane road. Officials at Bandelier told Weekly Alibi, that, in addition, the road had been newly paved.

Jason Lott, the superintendent of Bandelier National Monument, also says the park is used for back country and wilderness expeditions, but only about 5 percent of visitors engage in such extended visits. Of that rare breed who share the original Bandelier’s expeditionary vision, Lott said the back country “is a pretty remote experience. It’s a great opportunity for solitude and getting back to nature.”

The People

Humans first inhabited the area comprising Bandelier National Monument 10,000 years ago. They were likely nomadic or seasonal inhabitants; ancestors of the Pueblo people permanently settled the valley at the center of Bandelier, a portion of Frijoles Canyon—around the year 1200. Their use of obsidian knives—a popular and deadly item much further south in the Aztec Empire—demonstrates that the civilization centered at Bandelier was complex and fairly advanced with regard to trade and tools.

Much of the building in Frijoles Canyon was done during the Pueblo IV era, a time in New Mexican history between 1350 and 1600. It is thought that this upsurge in human population was caused by social unrest and environmental problems in the Four Corners and Mesa Verde regions. By the beginning of the 17th century, though, Bandelier had been abandoned as inhabitants moved closer to the river and founded pueblos like Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Cochiti.

At the end of the 19th century, a Swiss-American archeologist named Adolph Bandelier undertook an expedition to the area. Bandelier’s expertise was in ancient Amerian cultures and he was duly impressed with what he encountered in the remote mountainous canyons of northern New Mexico.

The Process

Briefly, Senator Heinrich is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. He’s currently overseeing legislation, called the Defense Appropriations Bill, that would also change the designation of White Sands National Monument to a national park.

With the preservation and conservation of public lands a priority during his tenure, Senator Heinrich is now moving forward with work on creating another new National Park and Preserve at what is now known as Bandelier National Monument.

This past Thursday, Heinrich announced the introduction of legislation to see that commitment to public land move to the next level. According to the Senator’s office, “The legislation seeks to build a stronger relationship between the National Park Service and pueblos whose history and culture is deeply rooted in Bandelier. The bill would establish a tribal advisory commission, which would provide guidance for park management that reflects traditional and historical knowledge and values. In a historic precedent for a national park, traditional knowledge will be required by statute to be integrated into land management planning. Additionally, the bill would permanently safeguard tribes' religious rights and practices in Bandelier.”

The protection afforded National Parks also means that, even given the significant rollbacks the Trump administration has made to oil and gas production regulation in the US, Bandelier—and for that matter White Sands—can’t be compromised by drilling, fracking or any other kind of energy resources exploration and environmental exploitation.

The Stakeholders

The Pueblo people are not the only stakeholders in this long and potentially awesome saga. The citizens of New Mexico, indeed the citizens of the Earth, have a duty and obligation to protect Earth and its treasures, cultural and physical.

During the press call, Heinrich summarized the situation clearly and with a passion that reflects a long-term commitment to New Mexico and its people.

He said, “When I talk to people about what makes New Mexico so unique, it always comes back to the same things. It’s our incredibly breathtaking landscapes, our deep and complex history and our unique cultures. And Bandelier National Monument encapsulates each of these in really unrivaled ways. That’s why I was so proud to work with communities across northern New Mexico to introduce legislation today to elevate Bandelier to our nation’s newest National Park.”

The Senator added that “Bandelier’s mesas and canyons have a human history that dates back more 10,000 years. Nearly one thousand years ago, the ancestral pueblo people built homes along cliff faces, dug ceremonial kivas and planted crops on mesa-top fields. What these people left behind is a living cultural landscape with ongoing spiritual and religious significance for the descendants who live in today’s pueblos.”

Governor Michael Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo contributed to the discussion, telling listeners, “Bandelier is a spiritual sanctuary for Santa Clara Pueblo, a place of worship. It must be protected, now and into the future.” Chavarria also told the press that he appreciated the call for the establishment of a Tribal Advisory Board for Bandelier, as well as the fact that the National Park designation would protect this holy land from oil and gas exploration.

Preserving New Mexican culture, sustaining The Land of Enchantment and creating opportunities to turn away from the exploitative excesses of the current administration seem to be the hallmarks of Senator Heinrich’s tenure and are almost certain to win him another term as each quality continues to grow as it goes.