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This trek, descending and ascending five canyons each way, is one of the most physically demanding in Bandelier National Monument.
The exertion, however, is well worth it for the incredible scenic wonders along the way. Along with the stunning beauty, this route offers a promise of solitude, as few others make the effort to get this deep into Bandelier's Wilderness.
Established in 1916, this Wilderness has remained an undeveloped hikers' paradise for over 100 years.
The hike to Yapashi Ruins travels the Middle Alamo Trail directly from the Visitor Center picnic area.
From there, it quickly leaves the crowds behind in Frijoles Canyon and starts the long, mellow ascent to the canyon rim.
Just before topping out, there is a great view of the cavates (cave-like homes of Ancestral Pueblans), including the famous Alcove House, across Frijoles Canyon. The route meanders gently as it intersects several other trails; be sure to stay on the Middle Alamo Trail at every junction.
The first couple canyons preview the daunting Alamo Canyon.
First up is a tributary of Lummis Canyon, just a little down and up before the 120-foot descent into Lummis Canyon-proper.
After climbing back out of Lummis Canyon, enjoy the mile of relatively flat terrain before entering Alamo Canyon. At the edge of Alamo Canyon, stop to absorb the enormity of the impending 500-foot drop into the 1/4-mile-wide canyon.
There are countless stone steps descending to the canyon floor; pay attention to your footing as you switchback steeply downward! The bottom is a perfect place to stop for a snack and take a break in the shade of huge trees before embarking on the steep ascent of the other side of Alamo Canyon.
Once at the opposite rim, there is only one more canyon crossing, a branch of Alamo Canyon, to dip into before the mellow mile to the Yapashi Ruins.
Upon reaching the ruins, assess your remaining energy to determine whether to take on another 1/2-mile to the Stone Lions sacred site.
The site consists of a circle of rocks surrounding two carvings of lions.
The heads are gone, but the bodies and tails remain.
If adding the Stone Lions site is desired, it is best to hike on, then take time on the way back to fully appreciate Yapashi Ruins on the return. The Yapashi Ruins are the largest of the many Ancestral Pueblan ruins located in Bandelier.
There is evidence of 400 years of Pueblan life spanning the period from 1150 to 1550 CE.
Most of the ancient ruins are unexcavated to prevent the deterioration of exposing them to the elements and to allow for future, possibly superior, excavation techniques.
It is amazing that there are any remnants of ancient life, like the numerous potsherds, left at all.
One of the biggest reasons for National Monuments is to stop the wholesale destruction of such cultural and historic places. After spending ample time wandering around the ruins, begin the trek back, descending and re-ascending all five canyons.
Along the way, note evidence of past wildfires; there have been many huge fires at Bandelier, with over 60% of the Monument burning since 1977.
2011 saw the most recent such wildfire and the resultant flooding and destruction that followed.
The trails are still being re-built from that event.