Bandelier rests on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains, with an altitude range of 5,000 feet at the Rio Grande to 10,000 feet at the peak of Cerro Grande. This landscape of hilly terrain, interrupted by abrupt canyons, was created over one million years ago by massive volcanic eruptions, and has slowly been eroding over time.
The park offers a large variety of habitats to wildlife and is home to a diversity of species. The most common animals to see include mule deer, Abert's squirrels, lizards, birds, and butterflies. Birders can look for Stallar's Jays, Canyon Towhees, Mountain Chickadees, Turkey Vultures, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Sandhill Cranes, and Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Mammal enthusiasts can search for bats, mountain lions, deer, elk, and squirrels. Smaller wildlife to find include tarantulas, tarantula hawk wasps, Mourning Cloak, Orange Sulfur, Swallowtail, Monarch, and California Tortoiseshell butterflies, millipedes, Horned, Whiptailed, and Fence lizards, skinks, Rattlesnakes and Bullsnakes.
Beautiful blooming cacti and desert succulents to see include hot-pink Cane Cholla, yellow or pink Prickly pear, and red-orange Claretcup cactus. Visitors can also see colorful wildflowers such as orange Butterflyweed, mauve and green Antelope's Horn milkweed, white Yucca and Canada Violet, pale pink Wild Rose and Mariposa Lily, and blue Wild Iris.
Humans have inhabited the Bandelier area for over 10,000 years. The earliest residents were nomadic hunter-gatherers but the first permanent settlements are estimated to have been constructed around 1150 CE. By 1550, Cochiti, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Santo Domingo had become homes to the Ancestral Pueblo people along the Rio Grande because resource depletion and sever drought forced them to find new land. In the mid-1700's Spanish settlers moved into Frijoles Canyon and later brought Adolph F. A. Bandelier to the area. President Woodrow Wilson officially named Bandelier National Monument in 1916 and most of the work to create the park infrastructure was finished by 1941. During World War II the park was closed to the public for a few years and was taken over by the military to house Manhattan Project scientists.