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Ancient History

Bandelier National Monument | Valles Caldera National Preserve | White Rock Canyon Overlook
Bandelier National Monument


About 1.6 million years ago, the first series of volcanic eruptions initiated the creation of today’s most scenic landmarks in Los Alamos. Most notably, the Pajarito Plateau’s mesas and canyons where Los Alamos communities eventually settled; and the Jemez Mountains that surround a 3,000-foot deep caldera, part of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve.


Starting in approximately 1150 AD, Ancestral Pueblo people began to build permanent settlements on the Pajarito Plateau. Ancestors of current Native American tribes, commonly referred to as Anasazi, built communities and inhabited the Los Alamos, New Mexico area between 1150 AD and the 16th century. 

For more than 400 years, they survived by harvesting crops planted on mesa-top fields and collecting a wide range of useful native plants. Changing conditions on the plateau provided the impetus for the people to move and begin constructing the pueblos along the Rio Grande, where many still exist today. Evidence of this early occupation and Anasazi ruins are found throughout Los Alamos County and, most notably, in the dwellings at Bandelier National Monument and in the downtown Los Alamos Historic District. 

In the decades leading up to the turn of the 20th century, the Pajarito Plateau experienced the cultures and influences of a new generation of settlers—from Spanish land grant holders to homesteaders, merchants, farmers and ranchers.

Banner Photo: Valles Caldera, Above: Bandelier National Monument | Leslie E. Bucklin

See & Do: Related Activities 

Bandelier National Monument

Open 363 days a year, Bandelier National Monument is a short drive from central Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bandelier offers thousands of archeological sites, 70+ miles of hiking trails, overnight camping sites, a park museum, park film, Trading Gift Shop and Snack Bar.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

Los Alamos, New Mexico is one of the major gateways to the Valles Caldera. One of three super volcanoes in the United States, the 89,000 acre preserve is known for large elk herds, expansive meadows, 50+ miles of hiking, 27 miles of bike trails, and small group van tours.

White Rock Canyon Overlook

White Rock Canyon is a geologic masterpiece created by hot rock, landslides, and the Rio Grande. Averaging 1,000 feet deep, the canyon offers spectacular views unmatched in the Los Alamos, New Mexico region. The canyon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.