Bandelier bomb scare dampens holiday

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

At 8:40 a.m. on the Fourth of July, a male suspect called the Bandelier Visitor Center warning a bomb was placed in Frijoles Canyon. He also told the park employee he was five miles away, “watching.”

The threatening call caused the evacuation of Bandelier National Monument on one of its busiest days of the year and in the end, it appears to have been a hoax since no bomb was discovered.

The cost of that Independence Day hoax is severe in terms of the nearly continual stream of disappointed families and individuals turned away at the gate throughout the day.

Mike Canino was one of many frustrated visitors. The Connecticut resident is traveling across country on his Triumph motorcycle. Decked out with backpacking gear in anticipation of a trip into Bandelier’s back country, Canino was told Friday of the bomb scare and given directions to other camping spots and trailheads outside of Bandelier territory.

“It’s a real shame on the Fourth of July,” Canino said.

Bandelier Superintendent Brad Traver added, “I’ve been listening to the discussions from people in the cars we’ve had to turn away and there have been lots of kids in the back seats who are very disappointed.”

The hoax also has a monetary impact in the deployment of specialized expertise and equipment.

During an interview with Travers at the scene, a helicopter whirled overhead scanning surrounding ridges in search of the culprit. A bomb-sniffing dog, brought in by New Mexico State Police, also swept the canyon for several hours.

All the standard law enforcement agencies were alerted, Traver said. The bomb squad, comprised of explosives experts from Los Alamos police and Los Alamos National Laboratory HazMat departments, LANL security, Los Alamos Fire Department personnel and equipment, and the FBI descended on the park – each spending the day away from their families’ Fourth of July celebrations.

“About 100 people were evacuated,” Traver said. “It was early enough in the day that not that many people were here yet.”

Some 25 people also were evacuated from nearby residences, he said, and hikers were pulled in from area trails and asked to leave the park. Traver also mentioned that rangers were posted at trail heads to keep people from entering during the bomb search.

Visitors in the campgrounds were alerted to the situation and warned not to enter the canyon area, he said.

“I’ve never been at a park that had this type of threat and to my knowledge, this has never happened before at Bandelier,” Traver said, adding that some of his park law enforcement officials have experienced similar threats at other parks.

The park remained closed for 24 hours and officials said the search for the caller will continue.

A visitor center employee said this morning that the park has re-opened and the public is welcome to come back and enjoy all the activities.

Current Bandelier Visitor Center hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Frijoles Canyon and Tsankawi are currently open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. each day.

Other day-use areas including Cerro Grande, Burnt Mesa and Alamo Boundary are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week.

Bandelier’s entrance fee is $12 per private car with the receipt being valid for seven days. America the Beautiful, National Park, Golden Age, Golden Access and the Bandelier annual passes are honored for entrance.

For more information about Bandelier National Monument, call the visitor center at 672-3861, ext. 517, or visit Bandelier’s website at www.nps.gov/ band.

Editor’s note: Katy Korkos of the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce contributed to this story.