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Tsankawi Loop Trail #1 Tsankawi Loop Trail #2 Tsankawi Loop Trail #3 Tsankawi Loop Trail #4 Tsankawi Loop Trail #5 Tsankawi Loop Trail #6 Tsankawi Loop Trail #7 Tsankawi Loop Trail #8 Tsankawi Loop Trail #9 Tsankawi Loop Trail #10 Tsankawi Loop Trail #11 Tsankawi Loop Trail #12 Tsankawi Loop Trail #13 Tsankawi Loop Trail #14 Tsankawi Loop Trail #15 Tsankawi Loop Trail #16 Tsankawi Loop Trail #17 Tsankawi Loop Trail #18 Tsankawi Loop Trail #19 Tsankawi Loop Trail #20
The Numbers that follow correspond to the numbers in the trail map above.
Text from Tsankawi Trail - Bandelier National Monument a publication of Western National Parks Association.
The prehistoric people of Tsankawi (sah-kah-WEE) were totally dependent on their environment.   Everything they possessed - their homes, clothing and food - came directly from "Mother Earth".   After many years of occupancy they moved on.   Although they respected the Earth and her gifts, they had to use some resources in order to stay alive.   In this sparse, arid environment, their needs were too great to be sustained indefinitely.   Archaeologists tell us that the ancestral Pueblo people left Tsankawi as a result of a decrease in rainfall, along with the depletion of important natural resources such as firewood, and soil exhaustion from centuries of farming.   Many Pueblo Indian legends tell of groups moving from place to place.   Moving on after several generations may have been an expected part of life.
The climate has changed little since the time when Indians were living here.   The environment is dry, averaging about 15" of precipitation each year, and frost or freezing can occur into mid-May.   Yet these people were able to develop an agricultural way of life.   They made expert use of resources such as native plants, wildlife, and various types of stone.
The type of plants here are typical of piñon-juniper woodlands found in many areas of the Southwest where ancestral Pueblo people settled.   Plants adapted to dry conditions are usually slow-growing and not very tall, thus the name "pygmy forest".   Ponderosa pines, common at higher, wetter locations, are usually found only near arroyos (drainages) where more moisture is available.   Along the trail are juniper, piñon, rabbitbrush, yucca, saltbrush, mountain mahogany, and other plants that the people depended on for food, medicines, dyes, spices, and tools.  
A little over a million years ago, huge eruptions of the Jémez (HAY-mess) volcano covered the surrounding area with a thick layer of tuff (volcanic ash).   The resulting tableland, now called the Pajarito (pa-ha-REE-toe, or little bird) Plateau, was cut by streams, leaving the mesas and canyons around you.   The Jémez Mountains west of here are remnants of this volcano. State Road enroute to Jémez Springs passes through the Valle Grande, part of the huge 15-mile-wide crater.   The ancestral Pueblo people had no metal; tools had to be fashioned from other locally available materials.   Basalt (hard, dense volcanic rock) found nearby was used to enlarge caves in the softer tuff cliffs and to shape building blocks.   Basalt was also fashioned into manos and metates, stones for grinding corn.   Obsidian (volcanic glass) from the Jémez volcano made a perfect material for arrow points, knives and scrapers.

Many sections of the trail you are following are worn 8 to 12 inches into solid rock
(see picture to the right).   Throughout the Pajarito Plateau there is a network of similar trails, often connecting villages or leading to farming areas.   They were cut and worn into the rock by generations of ancestral Pueblo people, barefooted or in sandals, passing back and forth from their mesa-top homes to the fields and to springs in the canyons below.
The petroglyphs, or rock carvings, on the rock ahead (see picture to the right) are only a few of many along this cliff.   You can see three human-like figures, bird designs, four-pointed stars, and other symbols.   The large figure appears to have cornhusks or feathers on top of its head.   Petroglyphs are common throughout this area and much of the American Southwest.   Meanings of some are still know to present-day Indians.   These drawings have cultural importance to local Pueblo people; please treat them with respect.   Because they are carved into soft tuff, even touching these petroglyphs can cause permanent damage.  
Why did the people choose this and other similar mesa-top locations for their homes?   The lack of soil here may be due to heavy livestock grazing in the 1800s.   In the 1400s the mesa-tops may have been more likely places for farming than they are now.   Some of the fields of corn, beans, and squash could also have been located in the canyons below to take advantage of runoff.   Today, there is no permanent source of water here.   Prior to the development of the modern community of Los Alamos, there may have been a permanent stream to the north in Los Alamos Canyon.   Mesa-top dwellers would have had to use pottery jars to carry drinking water from the stream, or store rainwater in structures like the one you will see at marker 14.   Mesa-top locations may have been chosen for defensive reasons, but there is no evidence of warfare or strife.   Perhaps there were other reasons for which we have no evidence.

In the valley to the northeast
(and in the picture to the right) are remains of a home and school built by Madame Vera von Bumenthal and her friend Rose Dugan in 1918.   They wanted to help the potters at nearby pueblos revive techniques that would make their pottery more intersting to collectors and thus provide needed income to their communities.   This effort was shared by a number of individuals and institutions during the first half of this century.
The people who lived at Tsankawi were not isolated.   Many other villages were located on nearby mesas and in canyon bottoms.   People of various settlements probably traded tools, pottery, blankets, agricultural products, feathers, turquoise, and seashells and joined together for social and religious activities.   They were all competing for the resources of the area, especially game and firewood.   An enterprising hunter who tried to find more deer and rabbits by travelling far from his village would soon be approaching another.   A trip to the mountains might be more successful, but the meat would have to be brought back. a long carry in atime when horses were not available.
In the Tewa language of the nearby Pueblo people, the name for Tsankawi (saekewikwaje onwikege) means "village between two canyons at the clump of sharp round cacti" - (canyon and cacti visible in the picture to the left).   The large settlement had about 350 rooms.   It was two and perhaps even three stories high in some places.   It is roughly rectangular in shape and enclosed the large central courtyard or plaza seen in the picture to the right.   Everyday living activities occurred in the plaza along with various dances and ceremonies.   This architectural plan of room blocks surrounding a central plaza is still used in the villages of present-day Pueblo Indians.   The rooms were constructed of tuff blocks (seen in the picture to the right), shaped using harder stones and then laid-up with mud mortar.   Walls were then plastered inside and out.   Roofs were made of wood and mud.   Archaeological evidence indicates Tsankawi was probably built during the 1400s and inhabited until the late 1500s.   Archaeologists refer to this time as the Rio Grande Classic Period.   Local people left the many small villages throughout the area and moved together to build large pueblos such as Tsankawi.   The centuries have taken their toll.   Roofs have fallen in and the walls have partially collapsed.   Windblown material has sifted in.   What was once the home of many people has been reduced to the low mounds of rubble that you now see.
The villagers had a spectacular view of their surroundings.   To the west are the Jémez Mountains.   To the east are the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains and the Española Valley.   About 70 miles south are the Sandia (watermelon) Mountains, just east of present day Albuquerque.   This entire area is part of a major geolgic feature, the Rio Grande Rift, which the Rio Grande River flows through.   Along its banks live the descendants of the people from Tsankawi and other nearby villages.  
Tsankawi was probably occupied until the late 1500s.   Traditions at the modern pueblo of San Ildefonso, 8 miles to the northeast, say that their ancestors once lived in Tsankawi and other nearby pueblo sites.   From tree-ring evidence we learn there was a prolonged dry period during the late 1500s.   The lack of rain, combined with growing crops in the same fields for generations, may have brought about crop failures.   There may have been other reasons too, but this and other intriguing problems cannot be fully solved until further research is done.
Why did the village have so many rooms?   Being farmers, the people would have needed plenty of space for storage of dried corn, beans, and squash.   The food they stored had to provide for their needs not only for the present year, but also for times when there were crop failures.   Other rooms would have been used for cooking and sleeping, and special chambers (know by the Hopi term kiva) were used for gatherings for religious and other purposes.
At one time this low wall may have held a small reservoir.   After summer showers, water draining from the rooftops and plaza of Tsankawi was collected in this structure.   Most of the Classic Period sites have similar reserviors, strategically located to receive runoff from the villages.
Most of the caves carved into the soft tuff cliff had small masonry building, known as talus pueblos (talus is the loose stone at the base of a cliff) constructed in front of them.   These buildings have long since collapsed.   Often the only remaining evidence of them is the socket holes where roof timbers were anchored.   Try to imagine what it might have been like to be cooped up inside these small rooms during long, cold, snowy winter nights with a smoky fire for light and heat - summer must have been welcome!   But the people also had another way to get out of smoky homes.   Notice that all the nearby mesas have cave rooms on the south-facing side.   This location would have been a real advantage in winter.   The afternoon sun would warm the cliffs, melt the snow, and allow the people to spend at least a few hours outside on sunny days.   By contrast, the north-facing slopes often retain their snow cover throughout the winter.  
Stairways or hand and toehold trails like this one were cut into the stone in places.   They provided routes to the mesa top that would have been much easier to use than the cleft in the rock you climbed.   At best it was still a perilous climb.   If the pueblo was placed on the mesatop for defense would these access points have made the villages less secure?   Today these stairways have suffered damage from use by too many visitors; please stay on the trail instead.

Standing here surrounded by the caves, canyons and mesas, imagine how different the area was when inhabited.   Most caves would have had one or more small, square, smoothly plastered rooms in front.   Most of the nearby trees would have been cut for roof beams, tools, or firewood.   The canyon bottoms would have been covered with agricultural fields.   Around you would be all kinds of activities - women cooking, sewing, grinding corn; men tending the farms or making tools; children playing.   The sounds of people singing and children, dogs, and turkeys chasing each other would have filled the air, along with smoke from household fires and the smells of cooking, meat drying and many people living in close quarters.   It would have been a lively busy scene, far different from today's atmosphere of quiet and solitude.
If you look carefully as you go along the trail, you will see many more petroglyphs on the cliffs.   Depending on light conditions, some may be obvious.   Others may be faint and hard to see.
Follow the lower edge to return to the rock platform near the beginning of the trail.   There are many places with sharp dropoffs.   Be careful of your footing, and keep children close to you.
The National Park Service hopes that you have enjoyed your visit to Tsankawi.   You have explored only a small part of Bandelier National Monument.   We invite you to visit the main section of the monument, which is 12 miles south on State Road 4.   The Visitor Center, monument headquarters, and a self-guiding trail are located in Frijoles Canyon.   Park rangers are on duty to answer questions and hrlp plan your visit, and an introductory 10-minute slide program is available.   During summer, interpretive activites may be offered.   The museum contains exhibits on the continuing culture of the Pueblo people.