|Bandelier National Monument
Following a series of fires and flash floods in 2011, nature has continued to press transportation challenges on Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. On July 11, 2012, the park experienced its first flash flood of the season in Frijoles Canyon, the section of the park where the visitor center and major archeological sites are located. Additional flash floods are expected during the remainder of the rainy season, which extends through September. On July 11, the creek completely filled its banks, and took out all of the temporary foot bridges that had been placed over the creek after last year's floods destroyed the permanent bridges.
Through November 17th, all access to Frijoles Canyon is via a mandatory shuttle bus from the gateway community of White Rock. After 4p.m. each day, private vehicles are allowed to drive into Frijoles Canyon, but must leave the canyon by sunset. The shuttle was instituted when floods following a wildfire in 2011 washed out a major bridge and nearly half of the visitor center parking lot.
When the park was ready to reopen in 2012, park officials approached Los Alamos County about operating a shuttle into Frijoles Canyon. The county approved the idea as a way to promote economic development in the town of White Rock. A new White Rock Visitor Center will open in late September, and the shuttle stop will move to that location.
The park already had the funds to conduct a transportation study before the Las Conchas Fire. "The advantage now is we are actually studying the shuttle while we're running it," Lott said.
In addition, cars in the canyon change its quiet character, something the park staff works to preserve. Since the daily shuttle service launched, the canyon has been free of barking dogs, slamming car doors and the revving of big diesel engines. "Without the cars, it is actually much nicer," Lott said.
The park's administration is currently thinking about making the shuttle permanent. The current shuttle service to Bandelier will operate for three years, running seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. But making the shuttle permanent involves some challenges. For example, pets are not allowed on the shuttle, which means they must be left in cars at the shuttle parking lot. And what happens when someone misses the last shuttle out of the park in the evening? These and more questions are being considered.
Even before the 2011 floods, the park had been straining to accommodate more than 200,000 visitors and their private vehicles each year. Visitors often had to be turned away because there was no parking available in the canyon area. Once visitor parking is repaired, the problem of congestion won't go away. And expansion of the visitor parking lot would be difficult. The visitor center, administration offices, the parking lot and a few picnic areas are sandwiched into the narrow canyon. Beyond them are the ancient kivas, the remains of a pueblo village built into the canyon's walls. "We don't really have the ability to enlarge our footprint," said park superintendent Jason Lott. "Basically, this is one long archaeological site. We don't want to impact it."
Photo of shuttle: Photo credit Daniel Mayer (Mav)