FILE – This Sept. 26,2011 file photo, White Rock, N.M., Park Ranger, Rod Torrez takes a picture of a shuttle bound for B[auth] andelier National Monument following closure due to the states largest wildfire. Bandelier National Monument is reopening to vehicular traffic on Monday Oct.31, 2011 for the first time since the Las Conchas fire this summer. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz, File)
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Bandelier National Monument reopened the prehistoric park Monday to vehicular traffic for the first time since the Las Conchas fire this summer.
The Los Alamos Monitor reports (http://bit.ly/vJKs9o ) that the park allowed automobile traffic back after what officials are calling a successful shuttle project.
The park also returns to dawn-to-dusk hours, with the temporary visitor center open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Upper Falls Trail has been cleared and partially rerouted to the Upper Falls overlook.
Officials closed the park to auto traffic following the summer wildfire that charred a large portion of the park and resulted in flooding in Frijoles Canyon. The largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history, the blaze burned more than 244 square miles and 63 homes.
To get tourists to the prehistoric Native American archaeological sites, officials began a shuttle ridership. As of Thursday, shuttles had carried nearly 8,000 visitors to the park in 32 days. Most shuttles have been filled to capacity.
“Without that shuttle service, we would not have opened Frijoles Canyon, because we could not have handled the cars,” Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott said.
The free shuttle is estimated to have cost $86,000, with Bandelier contributing 25 percent and the rest coming from the county’s general fund. The shuttle appears to have boosted visitation to White Rock and Los Alamos.
In October of 2010, for example, visitation at both the Los Alamos and White Rock visitor centers totaled 1,223. This year, the latest October visitation figures totaled 3,126 at the Los Alamos visitor center and 789 in White Rock.
Bandelier officials and county staff are currently discussing reinstating the shuttle system during peak season again next year. Bandelier cannot replace bridges that provide access to half the parking until the danger of excessive monsoon flooding from Las Conchas burn areas is past. Damaging floods are expected again next year and possibly the following year.
Lott said there is a possibility a permanent shuttle to Bandelier would open up. That would create a scenario where visitors are more likely to spend time in White Rock. The county can promote other tourist activities through a video played on the bus.
The influx of 120 seasonal employees at Bandelier could also take advantage of the shuttle. “There are some great opportunities for the county, for our citizens and for Bandelier visitors,” Lott said.
Los Alamos Councilor Mike Wismer said taking cars off the nine-mile stretch between White Rock and Bandelier also was very popular with cyclists and motorcyclists.
“You’re actually providing a safer environment with fewer cars,” Wismer said. “As a cyclist who’s ridden it a few times and waved at the bus drivers, there is an added safety factor in having all those cars – mostly out-of-towners who don’t know the road – off the road and pleasantly riding the bus and watching the video.”