Bandelier was established as a National Monument in 1916, but until the mid-30’s the only visitor facility in Frijoles Canyon was a lodge built in 1909 by Judge A. J. Abbott. Even by 1925 when George and Evelyn Frey acquired the lease to run the lodge, the only way for visitors to access the canyon bottom and the lodge was on foot. Much of the Freys’ food came from their garden and livestock, but everything else - visitors, archeologists, supplies, and the Freys themselves whenever they had to get groceries or mail - had to come down this trail.
In 1932, when Bandelier was transferred from the United States Forest Service to the National Park Service, Frank “Boss” Pinkley was the Superintendent of the Southwestern National Monuments. He knew that to make it possible for more people to visit Bandelier, improved facilities and better access into the canyon were necessary. When the Emergency Conservation Work Act in 1933 created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), funding and workers became available to do this work.
The CCC was a Depression-era program designed to produce public works while providing much-needed jobs and work experience for men between the ages of 17 and 26. With the desperate nationwide lack of employment, young men welcomed the opportunity to get room, board, and training. The pay was $1 a day, and at the end of each month they received $5 of that, while the rest was sent home to their families. It is hard today to imagine what a difference that money made to families in rural New Mexico, as well as all over the country. Older, skilled workers, known as LEM’s (Local Experienced Men), taught the enrollees marketable skills including carpentry, tinwork, furniture making, carving, and masonry.
As soon as a CCC camp was approved for Bandelier, “Boss” Pinkley began putting together plans for the road into the canyon and facilities for visitors. It was considered very important for park structures to harmonize with the environment and local culture, so a regionally-popular style often called Pueblo Revival was chosen. The Park Service architect, Lyle Bennett, had worked on several other Park Service and CCC buildings in the Southwest and was well schooled in this style.
The first project, the road, was opened as a truck trail in 1933. Over the next 8 years the enrollees built 31 stone buildings for visitor facilities, Park Service residences, offices, the fire tower and entrance station, along with the hand-carved wood furniture and pierced-tin light fixtures to furnish them. Their work also included building trails, helping archeologists stabilize the Ancestral Pueblo sites, and widening and completing the road. In late 1941, the work was essentially complete, and the camp was moved out of Frijoles Canyon. In December of that year, the United States entered World War II, and most CCC enrollees all over the country had soon enlisted in the Armed Services, thus ending the CCC era.
As you tour these buildings, remember they were done in a time of national economic emergency, by young men learning skills under the supervision of local experienced craftsmen. There was little funding for supplies, necessitating the use of local materials, but an almost unlimited supply of labor, resulting in beautiful, painstaking handwork that would be almost impossible to duplicate today. They are a true tribute to the CCC program and its participants.