Sometime in early 2012, I started thinking about taking a bike camping trip to Bandelier National Monument. The park is only 15 miles from my house, but the trip involves some challenges that I didn't have during my last bike camping trip: high-elevation highway riding, bears, and thunderstorms, to name a few. It took a while to collect the equipment needed to make the trip (a bear canister for food, for example), and weather was very uncooperative, but in October of 2014 I was ready to make the trip.

Bandelier

After starting to plan the trip in 2012, I recognized that I needed to augment my camping gear with smaller versions of some things. I slowly started collecting the needed gear, including a backpacking stove, a backpacking cookset, and a small lantern, and by the summer of 2013 I had everything I needed. Of course, the summer of 2013 ended up being crazily rainy, so I decided to postpone the trip until the following summer.

The summer of 2014 wasn't much better, but the early fall stayed warm and I was finally able to make the trip during the first weekend of October. That Friday was one of my normally scheduled Fridays off, so when the day came I packed up the bike and headed out at around 11:00 in the morning.

I had been riding a lot during the months before the trip, so it was a pretty easy ride even though I had a bunch of gear on the back of my bike. My first stop on the way was at Hot Rocks for lunch, which was a big tasty steak grande burrito. After that pitstop, I was ready to make the loooong climb up NM 501 toward Camp May Road, and then the hilly ride to the back gate. From there it was an easy six mile downhill ride along NM 4 to the Bandelier gate, followed by a short trip in the park to Juniper campground. Overall, it was a pretty easy and uneventful ride.

Juniper campground has five or six campsites that are on a walkway instead of one of the main loops, which makes them a good choice for bike campers. I picked one that didn't have a giant anthill next to it (but, as I later discovered, was covered in goatheads), and by 2:00 I had the campsite set up and was ready for exploration.

Since the sun wouldn't set for another four or five hours, I had plenty of time to take the Frey Trail down into Frijoles Canyon. I could have stopped and visited the ruins there, but I've been there plenty of times before and didn't want to get caught up in the most tourist-oriented part of the park. Instead, I headed up the other side of the canyon to visit Frijolito Ruins, the overgrown remains of a mesa-top pueblo. It was much like the other unexcavated ruins I've run across in the area, but there were a couple of spots where original walls were still visible. Unlike the canyon floor, it was a peaceful place to poke around and enjoy the solitude.

After exploring the top of the mesa a little more, I decided it was time to start heading back to camp. Dropping back into the canyon, there was plenty of time left to make a quick trip through the ruins loop. At the end, I climbed back up the Frey Trail, getting back to camp with plenty of time to relax before making dinner, starting a fire, and watching the stars come out. It was getting pretty cool by the time the fire went out, so I climbed into the sleeping bag for a well-deserved rest.

The next morning I awoke with the sun and a nippy 45°F outside the tent. I got up, had some breakfast, replaced an inner tube on my bike (remember the goatheads?), and packed everything up for the trip home. While I was packing, the camp host wandered by and told me how excited he was that somebody had used one of the hidden campsites. We talked for a bit about what a fine park Bandelier is and how accessible it is to people from Los Alamos, and then I finished packing and made my way out of the park around 10:00.

That nice, long downhill trip that I took from the back gate was just as long on the way back, but this time it was all uphill and took a lot more time to get back up. But after I got onto NM 501, I knew it would be easy riding. As I was riding up one of the hills of NM 501, somebody on a road bike glided up behind me and asked "Hey, where were you at?" We had a nice talk about biking, camping, and local wildlife while we both climbed the hill, and when we got there she sped off while I plodded along with my gear. I got home right at about noon, giving me the rest of the day to put away all of the camping gear and rest my tired legs.