Burnt Mesa Pueblo and Eagle Traps

Trip Leaders: Rory Gauthier and Robert Powers

Field Trip, Trip is Full

Friday, September 19, 2014, 9:00 am–3:00 pm

Eagle TrapEagle TrapPhotograph courtesy of Janie Miller.Eagle TrapPhotograph courtesy of Janie Miller.

Burnt Mesa, above Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Park, was ravaged by the 1977 La Mesa Fire, which changed the visual landscape of Bandelier’s northern boundary. The once-prominent ponderosa forest has transitioned into grass and shrubs, which have attracted elk into the park. This open landscape has allowed visitors to more easily notice the numerous rock mound sites signifying Ancestral Puebloan life on the mesa.

The Coalition Period (A.D. 1175 – 1325) was a time of increasing population and construction on the numerous mesa tops that make up the Pajarito Plateau. Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde are starting to depopulate as changing weather patterns and resource depletion result in migrations of people southward into the Rio Grande drainage. Burnt Mesa Pueblo is one of these small Coalition Period pueblos, with a central plaza, kiva, and magnificent views in all directions.

A short walk from the pueblo, where 600-foot, sheer cliffs descend into Frijoles Canyon, two eagle traps have been excavated out of the tuff bedrock. These narrow pits were hand-quarried by the Puebloans and are wide and deep enough for a man to stand. When in use, the pit roofs would be covered with thin sticks, where a live rabbit would be tethered to attract an eagle. When an eagle swooped down to clasp the rabbit in its talons, the man hidden in the pit would reach up and capture it. Eagle feathers were prized and used for ceremonial purposes.

The Peopling of Bandelier

Archaeologists Rory Gauthier and Robert Powers are our outstanding guides for this off-trail hike to view two rarely visited sites. Both archaeologists have extensively explored and recorded the prehistoric use of the Pajarito Plateau. Rory Gauthier is the current park archaeologist for Bandelier National Monument and has authored several books on prehistoric New Mexico. Bob Powers directed the Bandelier Archaeological Survey and edited the SAR Press book The Peopling of Bandelier.

Activity Level: Moderate, requires off-trail hiking covering a distance of four miles.

Cost (per person): $75, includes guide honorariums, lunch, entrance fees, and transportation from SAR.

Trip Registration: You can register for an open field trip or be placed on the wait list for a filled trip by contacting Janie Miller at jmiller[at]sarsf.org or call (505) 954-7230. Please note, that placing your name on a trip wait list is a good way to get on a trip that is currently full, because we often get cancellations anywhere from a month to a day before the trip departs.

For more information, visit the Field Trips section.

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