Tsankawi Village Trail, New Mexico

After our visit to Bandelier National Monument, we drove about 12 miles (19km) to Tsankawi (sank-ah-WEE) – a Tewa word meaning “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti”. The Tsankawi Village Trail is but a small portion of the protected lands within Bandelier.Tsankawi Sign, New MexicoIn addition to being a part of the National Monument, Tsankawi is also an archaeological site that is culturally significant to the people of San Ildefonso Pueblo, who are descendants of the Ancestral Tewa people who once inhabited Tsankawi several thousand years ago.

When you enter the park, don’t forget to pick up a trail guide!Like the Frey Trail at the main park, Tsankawi Village Trail is self-guided and has various numbered markers along the way that tell you more about what you’re looking at. The loop is 1.5-miles (2.4km) in length.

A large portion of the Tsankawi trail takes hikers through various footpaths and stairways that were cut into the tuff (soft volcanic rock) by the Tewa. These footpaths provided the Tewa with safer and easier access to the mesa-top. As you walk along the routes, you can’t help but imagine what daily life would have been like.Photo by Riaz QureshiImagine walking on these in the rain or during the winter!Footpaths, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoFire stone/artifact at Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoOnce you reach the mesa-top there is a spectacular view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Jemez Mountains and the Río Grande Valley. It’s really a sight to see! I spent a lot of time just taking in the landscape.Tsankawi1Mesa-top, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoMesa-top, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoThe village portion of the trail had about 275 ground-floor rooms, many of which were only one to two storeys high. These rooms were used for everything including sleeping, cooking and storing crops and other supplies.

It is believed that the Tewa made Tsankawi their home sometime during the 1400s, where they built their houses and other structures using volcanic rock and adobe. Like the people living at the Frijoles Canyon, the people of Tsankawi took advantage of building cavates (cave dwellings) into the rock face. Many of the caves had stone buildings built out front, which helped to keep the dwellings warm in winter and cool in summer.Seeking - Tsankawi, New MexicoBecause the area receives only about 15 inches of rain per year, Tsankawi experiences periods of prolonged drought. Despite this, the Tewa found ways to thrive through foraging for native plants and cultivating beans, corn and squash.

Plants, like the Tewa people, also adapted to the dry landscape. The types of plants that can be found along the trail are typical of piñon-juniper woodlands and include piñon, yucca, rabbitbrush, salt brush, juniper and mountain mahogany. The Tewa and other Ancient Pueblo people used these plants for food, medicine, dyes, spices and tools – many of which are still used by the Pueblo people of today.Indian Paintbrush, Tsankawi, New MexicoWhile the Tewa were able to live at Tsankawi for generations at some point around the late 16th century, the Tewa left. Archaeologists believe they relocated due to heavy drought and other factors, such as the soil becoming infertile due to years of farming and the depletion of resources. It is believed the Tewa had to venture out further and further to gather even the most basic of resources including fire wood.

As time went on, the buildings fell into ruin due to the elements – the roofs collapsed, the walls crumbled and washed away. As a result, artifacts such as pottery and tools were washed away and the rubble and sand covering everything. Plants eventually began to grow all over the disturbed ground, further obscuring what was once visible.

Today you can find shards of pottery and other artifacts along the footpaths. In addition to encountering these small pieces of the past, you can also see many petroglyphs carved into the rock face.Pottery Shards at Tsankawi Village Trail, New Mexico Pictographs, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoPictographs2, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexcoMuch of Tsankawi and nearly 3,000 other archaeological sites at Bandelier remain unexcavated – only a handful have been. This is largely due to the cultural significance of the area to the San Ildefonso Pueblo, but thanks to modern technology much can be learned about the site without ever having to uncover it.Footpaths at Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoFor more information on Bandelier National Monument, check out my previous post!

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