Driving the High Road: Taos to Bandelier National Monument

Days 5-6 (August 2019)
New Mexico’s High Road and Bandelier National Monument
*Apologies for the bizarre text spacing in this post. I cannot fix the formatting, which is making me nutty, tho I am too lazy short on time to recreate the entire post. 

The High Road from Taos

After two relaxing sunny days in the high-desert landscape of the Rio Grande Gorge, I am craving cozy and cool green forest. With an initial plan to camp at Black Canyon NFS campground near Santa Fe, I hit the High Road, excited to finally be embarking on this quintessential New Mexico route for the first time.

Rio Grande Gorge to the west along the low road to Taos

The high road between Santa Fe and Taos winds through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains before dropping down to the Española Valley, passing through interesting historic towns along the way.

Driving through the Sangre de Christo Mountains on the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

Halfway between Taos and Santa Fe, I reach the old settlement of Truches,  with lovely views in all directions. Truchas Peak (elevation 13,100 ft) looms to the southeast and the town overlooks Española Valley to the southwest.

Overlooking the town of Truchas in the Sangre de Christo Mountains on the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

This still-unincorporated area was settled as part of the Truchas land grant of 1754. One of the many historic churches along the high road is Nuestra Señora del Rosario (circa 1805). The church is somewhat hidden in the middle of a small cluster of historic homes and commercial buildings.

In the town of Truchas along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

Historic Nuestra Señora del Rosario church in Truchas along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

Truchas was a sleepy, remote agricultural mountain town without a single paved road until its resident population began to change in the 1970’s.  Pastoral beauty and northern New Mexico’s booming art scene drew artists to the area, and in the late 80’s Robert Redford filmed The Milagro Beanfield War here.

While driving through the tiny town, I spy at least a dozen artist studios and galleries in historic homes, former churches, and old commercial buildings. The scene is authentic and charming, far from the polished appearance of Santa Fe. Truchas remains very sleepy, and aside from the galleries, most of the other businesses appear to be closed or for sale.

View of the Truchas Peaks along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

Tafoya's Truchas General Store (closed) along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

View from Truchas along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

I make a quick stop to walk Juniper at this overlook in Cordova. As we drop into the valley, the hot afternoon sun will not allow for leaving a dog in the car, and as such my photo stops along the high road are limited from here.

Near Cordova along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe

This isn’t my first time visiting the spiritual Mecca of Chimayó. Three years ago, en route to Santa Fe (on our first trip to New Mexico), we made a side trip to Chimayó to see the Santuario de Chimayó and for our first taste of authentic New Mexican food at the legendary Rancho de Chimayó restaurant. The meal is still one of our top five favorite food experiences. Our visit was on a rainy late afternoon, and the Santuario had just closed for the day. We enjoyed a quiet walk around the beautiful historic church grounds, sharing this special place with only a couple of other people.
With Juniper along, I am unable tour the Santuario or eat at the restaurant, however I do find a parking spot in the shade and pop in the Rancho de Chimayó gift shop just long enough to pick up some goodies to take home: Adovada sauce, salsa, and of course some extra hot red chile powder.

When I reach Española, it occurs to me that I could have trouble getting a campsite near Santa Fe on a Friday afternoon, so I change course and head toward Bandelier National Monument, passing through Santa Clara Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, and White Rock en route.

San Ildefonso Peublo

Near White Rock, New Mexico

How Dog-friendly is Bandelier National Monument?

Although dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Bandelier National Monument, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do in this park with a dog by one’s side. During this trip I do not get to see the Ancestral Pueblo sites, but I thoroughly enjoy walks around the paved areas of the park and my stay in the lovely campground. A future blog post about my September trip with Robert will include our Main Loop hike to the Ancestral Pueblo sites.

Inside Bandelier National Monument, our first stop is at the Frijoles Canyon overlook. Fun facts: Frijole is Spanish for bean, and is one of my favorite words. And foods. I even considered Frijole as a name for our dog, but Juniper seemed like a better fit for her personality.

Overlooking Frijole Canyon in Bandelier National Monument

The windy cliffside road into Frijoles canyon is bordered by an interesting low stone wall that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s. A coyote crosses my path as I round one of the road’s tightest curves. At the bottom of the canyon I stop to admire Bandelier’s CCC-constructed visitor center and administrative buildings.

CCC era administrative buildings and visitor center in Bandelier National Monument

CCC era administrative buildings and visitor center in Bandelier National Monument


We eat a late lunch creekside at the Cottonwood Picnic Area, and I walk Juni on this scenic shady road. I am puzzled by the presence of apple trees growing amongst the Riparian vegetation, until I later read that the canyon was used for agriculture in the early 20th century.

Frijoles creek beside the Cottonwood picnic area in Bandelier National Monument

Juniper at dog-friendly Cottonwood picnic area in Bandelier National Monument

Old apple tree in the Cottonwood picnic area in Bandelier National Monument

The Juniper Family Campground

The Juniper Family Campground at Bandelier National Monument is on the Pajarito Plateau, just inside park’s entrance. The campground does not offer reservations for individual sites (only the two group sites), however it rarely fills, so availability is usually not an issue. Arriving late afternoon on a Friday, I find two of the three loops – Albert’s Squirrel and Black Bear – only about 20% full. Many of the campsites in these two loops  have dense foliage between the sites and as such offer privacy.  These loops are best suited for tent and van camping, small RV’s and campers.  Half of the 19 sites on Coyote loop can accommodate large RV’s, and I find it to be the prettiest loop of the three, though worth noting that not all sites on this loop are created equal.

Bath houses are your typical NPS restrooms: older but clean, with flush toilets but no showers. Unlike most NPS campground bath houses, the Bandelier facilities stock hand soap. A minor thing, but a nice surprise as I don’t always remember to take soap up to the loo.


Tent camping in the Juniper Family Campground at Bandelier National Monument

I am so very lucky to find site #53 open. This site has a view of the bathhouse (so Juni will know where I am), a large level tent pad (Bandelier does not allow car sleeping), and a bear box (bears are very active in the area). And just look at my back “yard” for the night!

My campsite in the Juniper Family Campground at Bandelier National Monument

Juniper guards the bear box at my campsite in Bandelier National Monument

Although Juniper is not allowed on the trails, we enjoy walking the campground loops, and a ranger even invites us to the evening ranger talk at the amphitheater. Unfortunately we have to excuse ourselves 5 minutes in because a young buck is also watching the ranger talk from 20 feet away, and although she tries to be on her best behavior, Juni just cannot contain her excitement. Oh well!
Our departure isn’t completely unfortunate, however, because soon after we arrive back at camp a storm moves in. Had we still been at the amphitheater we would have been drenched. We hide out in the car for an hour and nap, then head to the tent for the night. The cool air post-storm is a refreshing change, and it makes for some good tent sleeping. With the rainfly unzipped on one side, Juniper wakes me occasionally because she hears or smells something moving about the meadow. In the darkness I am unable to catch sight of any wildlife, but love the thought that I’m sharing my little spot for the night with native fauna, or rather that the animals are kind enough to share it with me.

Tent camping in Bandelier National Monument

Here are a couple more pictures of the Coyote loop.

RV camping at the Juniper Family Campground in Bandelier National Monument

Campsite at the Juniper Family Campground in Bandelier National Monument

Juni is finally adjusting to the 2-hour time zone change, and lets me sleep until 6:45. Hooray! Feeling well-rested, we spend the cloudy and cool morning at camp, enjoying our serene setting for a few hours before heading into the heart of the Jemez Mountains.

View from Hwy 4 between Bandelier National Monument and Valle Caldera

Next: Valle Caldera National Preserve and the Red Rocks of the Jemez Mountains

See more New Mexico wandering here.

Wondering where else we’ve wandered? Check out our Parks List.

8 Replies to “Driving the High Road: Taos to Bandelier National Monument”

    1. I agree, Bandelier is such a beautiful place! My visit with Juniper was very fun, although it was a bit of a tease not being able to get on any trails. One day!


    1. It really is a nice campground, and so surprising that it rarely fills, considering the number of visitors Bandelier sees. I loved that campsite! I could have stayed for weeks 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You’re the third blogger I’ve heard from in recent days who is having tech trouble. It’s different kinds of tech trouble for each of you, but tech trouble just the same. Hmmm…
    Beautiful pics – looks like a marvelous camping experience. I notice you napped in your car at the campsite, you rebel. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, that’s right, technically I did sleep in my car! I make my own rules 🙂 I probably should have pitched the tent everywhere on that trip, because that night at Bandelier was the best night’s sleep I had in two weeks of travel. Most nights it was too warm for comfortable car sleeping because I kept having to roll windows up due to rain.

      Thankfully my tech trouble was very minor. That said, the imperfect formatting is still bugging me, grrrr…

      Liked by 1 person

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