Evidence of human activity in what is now Bandelier National Monument dates back more than 10,000 years. These early people migrated in and out of the area following the movement of game animals. They did not build permanent structures in the area and archeological finds are limited to items such as spear points. Over time they became more sedentary, building homes of wood and mud. Early structures, known as pit houses, were built largely underground. These houses have been found along the Rio Grande, just south of Bandelier. Above ground stone dwellings, like the ones you will see along this trail, gradually replaced pit houses.
The people who settled in Frijoles (free-HOH-lace) Canyon are known as the Ancestral Pueblo people. In the past, these people were identified as the Anasazi (ah-nah-SAH-zee). This outdated term has a Navajo origin and can be roughly translated as “ancient enemies,” thus the term is no longer used. Today the most closely related descendants of the ancient people who lived in Frijoles Canyon can be found in Cochiti Pueblo, which is located south of Bandelier National Monument along the Rio Grande. Tsankawi, a commonly visited site east of here on Highway 4, is more closely linked to the modern pueblo of San Ildefonso. Tales of the mysterious disappearance of the Ancestral Pueblo people must be replaced with an understanding of the continuity of an ancient culture still found in the modern pueblos including Santa Clara, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Zuni.
As Ancestral Pueblo people traveled across the Pajarito (pa-ha-REE-toe, ”Little Bird” in Spanish) Plateau they must have moved in and out of Frijoles Canyon. As you walk along this trail imagine standing on the rim of the canyon. The quiet air brings the gentle murmur of the creek to your ears. In spring the freshly sprouted green of the trees and shrubs near the water is in marked contrast to the darker green of the piñon-juniper woodlands on the mesatops. Undoubtedly the plentiful and diverse natural resources made this an ideal place to settle.