Falls Trail

Orange cliffs with ponderosa pine trees in the front.
Falls Trail in Bandelier National Monument is a scenic hike that ends with a great view of a waterfall.
Trail Name: Falls Trail
Length: 3 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Suitable For: Hiking and running only

By Craig Martin

Map of Falls Trail.

The Falls Trail in Bandelier National Monument makes a delightful, scenic outing for families or any hiker. The trail has sun and shade, running water (most of the time), ferns and wildflowers, and ends with a view of a spectacular waterfall. Much of the trail is shady, covered by ponderosa pines. Before the post-Las Conchas fire floods in 2011, the trail continued beyond Upper Falls to Lower Falls and from there to the Rio Grande. But the floods wiped out the trail and collapsed the surrounding cliffs so that no route through has been re-established. The old trail beyond Upper Falls is closed and hazardous.

The trip is relatively easy but does involve a 300-foot climb back from the falls along gentle grades. Also, much of the trail is on a bench high above the canyon bottom. This is particularly true in the last quarter mile before the falls, where careful supervision of children is highly recommended.

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Restoring Our Night Skies

Comet NEOWISE photographed in July 2020 at Valles Caldera National Preserve. Valles Caldera recently achieved International Dark Sky Park status. (Photo by Glen Wurden)

By Galen Gisler

Ancient cultures populated the night sky with fanciful imaginary creatures, and told their stories so frequently and so vividly that the stars were named for specific parts of those creatures’ bodies.

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Tsankawi Loop Trail

The rock forming the mesa on the Tsankawi Loop Trail is a melted together volcanic ash called tuff. It is relatively soft and easily worn away by foot traffic, and forms either deep ruts or is simply a white color after the weathered orange layer on the tuff wears away.
Trail Name: Tsankawi Loop Trail
Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Difficulty: Moderate, mostly because of the ladders
Suitable For: Hiking only, good for families with children under close supervision

By Craig Martin

If you are looking for a scenic trail with plenty of cultural resources and scenic vistas to enjoy, then check out the Tsankawi Loop Trail in the detached section of Bandelier National Monument near the intersection of the Truck Route and New Mexico Highway 4 north of White Rock. Because the trail is at a relatively low elevation, snow and mud dry out quickly, making this a good late winter destination.

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Virtual Field Trip: Bird Banding

A student releases a bird after banding during a field trip at Bandelier National Monument. (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Bird banding is a scientific method for collecting information about bird populations. Whether you’re a student or a bird enthusiast, join us on a virtual field trip to find out more about bird banding! If you’re a teacher, please contact us at educator@peecnature.org to let us know if you’re using this content in your classroom. Enhanced content may be available for teachers.

Click the links below to take a virtual bird banding field trip!

1) Watch this video:

Learn more about bird banding in Bandelier National Monument in this video by bird banding intern Zoë Moffett.

Texto del video en español

2) Hands-on activity: Build and band a bird (Versión en español)

3) Outdoor activity: Birds in your community scavenger hunt (Versión en español)

Share your experience with us! Email us at educator@peecnature.org to share your pictures and stories. You can rate our field trip using our evaluation form.

Night Friends

Bats are extraordinary creatures that benefit people in myriad ways — the world would be infinitely poorer without them. Bats come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes and have a great diversity of lifestyles. They are among the most diverse and successful mammals on the planet.

Consider this: Do bats play any part in the production of …

  • Bananas?
  • Chocolate?
  • Coffee?
  • Tequila?

It turns out that …

  • Wild banana plants — the source of all commercial varieties — require bats for pollination.
  • Without bats and birds controlling pests, cocoa bean yields would fall about 30%. That would mean less chocolate!
  • Likewise, on coffee farms, bats are voracious eaters of insects that attack these crops.
  • The agave from which all tequila is made relies on long-tongued bats for pollination. Where would New Mexico be without tequila for margaritas!?

Let’s take a moment to thank bats for life as we know it!

Bats show up in the fossil record around 50 million years ago, so these creatures have been inhabitants of this planet for a long time! There are more than 1,400 bat species worldwide. In the United States, we have 47 bat species, 23 of which are found in New Mexico. Our state’s species include the big brown bat, hoary bat, little brown bat (now endangered), Mexican free-tailed bat, pallid bat, silver-haired bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat, and western pipistrelle (also known as the canyon bat).

Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), commonly known as Mexican free-tailed bats, are noted for long, narrow wings and quick, straight flight patterns. These bats are the fastest mammals on earth, and have been recorded flying at speeds of 100 mph. These bats can also fly at heights of up to 10,000 feet! They start searching for food right after sunset and keep hunting throughout the night. We can thank them for eating thousands of insects each night, keeping mosquito and other harmful pest populations at bay.

Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) eating a moth while in flight in Texas. (Photo by MerlinTuttle.org)

Mexican free-tailed bats are also the most famous mammals found at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in southern New Mexico. This large colony wows visitors every evening from spring through fall with spectacular outflights. Bracken Cave Preserve, near San Antonio, Texas, hosts the largest group of Mexican free-tailed bats in the U.S. where as many as 20 million bats are located in a single cave. These bats alone can eat over 200 TONS of insects in one night!

Closer to home, you can see outflights of tens of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats at El Malpais National Monument in Grants. Bandelier National Monument had a colony of about 10,000 individuals that frequented a cave along the Main Loop Trail between 1986 and 2002. It isn’t known exactly why this colony stopped using the cave: an ecological mystery!

Did you know that bats have had to deal with their own pandemic in North America? A deadly fungus known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was discovered in Upstate New York in 2006. It thrives in cold environments where bats hibernate and has been decimating bat populations by keeping them from sleeping properly (much as you might sleep poorly when you are sick). The lack of sleep causes bats to use up their fat reserves before the end of winter, and consequently starve. The outbreak has resulted in millions of bat deaths and the epidemic is considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in North American history.

A bat flight photographed from Natural Entrance at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. (Photo by Thomas Hawk)

WNS is less likely to be seen in warmer regions and has not been seen in migrating bats. Most Mexican free-tailed bats, for instance, migrate to Mexico and Central America during the winter and WNS has not been seen in this species. WNS has not been identified in New Mexico, but has spread westward to Texas and Oklahoma. Wildlife biologists in New Mexico are watching the spread of this disease with concern and are doing research and taking precautions to protect our bats. This interactive map shows how WNS has spread in the United States since 2006.

Bats may also prove useful in helping humans deal with our own pandemic. Because COVID-19 did not evolve with humans, our bodies have few defenses against it. Bats, on the other hand, have likely been evolving alongside coronaviruses for millions of years. Most importantly, bats might actually help to provide the solution for COVID-19 and other viruses. Bats do not get sick from many viruses that might kill humans, and research on how bats achieve this could hold the key to help us fight this and future outbreaks. This is one of many articles now appearing on this topic

How you can help bats: 

  • Learn about bats and teach others about bats.
  • Give bats the best habitat and resources to survive.
  • Put up bat houses, plant gardens that attract insects, avoid pesticides.
  • Avoid caves where bats are hibernating.