On the Trail of the Ancient Ones

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November is a great time for a trek to Bandelier National Monument and its nearby Tsankawi ruins, where you’ll hike a trail blazed by Ancestral Puebloan people. It is also the perfect time to visit Pecos National Historical Park—the site of what was once the Southwest’s largest pueblo to explore and learn about the history of the Pecos Valley.

In the 1400’s these groups gathered into Pecos Pueblo, which became a regional power. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

Tsankawi was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people in the 1400s.  In the Tewa language of its former residents, Tsankawi means “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti.” Here, ancient Pueblo residents built a settlement atop a mesa and made their homes next to a cliff base, carving caves into soft tuff stone. The ancient ones used paths—now centuries old and worn deeply into the rock—to travel from the mesa top to the canyons below and also to nearby villages.


Hike ancient trails blazed by Ancestral Puebloan people. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

As you walk in the footsteps of these Ancestral Pueblo people, you’ll travel a 1.5 mile loop trail with incredible views, climbing up and down ladders and visiting unexcavated ruins and cave rooms. Watch for a staggering array of pristine petroglyphs along the way.

To get to Tsankawi from Santa Fe, take Highway 84 North to State Highway 502 to State Highway 4 and drive a quarter mile to the turn-off for the site, located on the left side of Highway 4. Park in the large gravel area next to the highway. You can pick up a trail guide at the entrance for a detailed description of the site.

In November, weather at Tsankawi can be mild, offering ideal conditions for exploring the site. But in rain, cold and snowy weather, the trail can become slippery. Always check the forecast before you go.

Look for handcarved petroglyphs along the trail (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

At Pecos National Historical Park, visit the remnants of an Ancestral Pueblo more than a thousand years old.  This was once one of the largest pueblos in the realm. Nearby, the worn adobe walls of an 18th century Spanish mission church are all that remain of a powerful Spanish presence that reigned over the region for several centuries. A 1.25 mile trail leads you from the Visitor Center to the ruins of Pecos Pueblo and its mission church.

The Pecos people also possessed an elaborate religious life, evidenced by many ceremonial kivas. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

If you time your visit right, you may take part in Las Posadas, a northern New Mexico holiday tradition, presented by St. Anthony’s Parish in Pecos. Translated from Spanish, Las Posadas means “inns” or “shelters,” and this event features the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem in search of shelter.

Imagine 3,500 farolitos illuminating the path from the church to the Ruins Trail. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

Hosted by Pecos National Historical Park and the Friends of Pecos National Historical Park, Las Posadas takes place on Monday, December 18, 2017. The free event starts as early as 4:30 p.m.  To enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides, be at the Headquarters Parking Lot by 6 p.m. for the traditional procession, which begins at the church and follows the Ruins Trail, illuminated by the soft glow of more than 3,500 farolitos beneath a cold winter sky. Farolitos are small paper lanterns with sand inside surrounding a lit candle. The farolitos are a significant part of the New Mexican Christmas Tradition, especially on Christmas Eve. You’ll sing hymns and holiday songs and enjoy hot cider and biscochitos and more. Be sure to dress warmly and bring a flashlight.

The Pecos National Historical Park also includes a 2.35 Glorieta Battlefield hiking trail. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County)

Pecos National Historical Park also includes the 2.35 mile Glorieta Battlefield hiking trail, where, in the spring of 1862, Confederate and Union forces fought a deadly 3-day battle (known as the “Gettysburg of the West”) that resulted in New Mexico remaining under Union control during the American Civil War. If you’d like to explore the trail and learn more about the battle, stop at the Visitor Center for access and a map.

Pecos National Historical Park is located 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe. Take I-25 north to exit 299, and then drive six miles on NM State Road 50 to the Village of Pecos. Turn right and drive south for two miles on State Road 63, which takes you to the park entrance.

To learn more about Santa Fe County and the northern New Mexico region, take a guided tour with Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, which offers a wide variety of adventures to choose from for guests and non-guests alike, including Guided Cultural Tours such as the Ancient to Present Tour that leads you on a journey where you’ll learn about the uniqueness of Ancestral Pueblo Culture. These excursions reveal the unique culture and history of the Land of Enchantment. Other guided adventures include the exploration of hiking trails and their popular biking trails excursions that offer a variety of seasonal trail options.


Visiting ancient sites will allow you to take in some of the area’s most beautiful scenery and historical sites. Plan your Santa Fe getaway now by ordering the 2017 Santa Fe Travel Guide. There are always deals and specials to use during your visit, so make sure to check these out.

This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Santa Fe County.


2 thoughts to “On the Trail of the Ancient Ones”

  1. I’ll be in Santa Fe the 1st weekend of January 2018 (Jan 5-7). I’m inerested in Art galleries, Georgia O’Keeffe museum, the Puebloan people history, and if possible, a trip to Taos. Do you think possible to cover all that on just a weekend? Do they have gallery walks? If so, when? What kind of weather should I expect for the beginning of January? Thank you in advance for all your help.

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