Simply Nahala

Writer. Photographer. Soul Traveler.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is one of New Mexico's better-kept secrets and includes 5,610 acres of public land. Situated between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the teepee tent-like formations are nestled on the Parjarito Plateau. The elevation ranges from 5,570 feet to 6,760 feet above sea level. It's a great day hike if you live in the area or well worth the detour if visiting the north-central part of the state.

Tribal lands are located outside the monument, and out of respect for privacy, photography, drawings and recordings are not permitted in this area. Kasha-Katuwe means "white cliffs" in the Pueblo de Cochiti people's traditional Keresan language. The interesting rock sculptures, also known as hoodoos were formed over time by weather and erosion after a volcanic eruption 6 to 7 million years ago. The tent rocks are cones of soft pumice and tuff beneath harder caprocks, which vary in height up to 90 feet. Volcanic glass can be found throughout the area, and are known as "Apache Tears."

I arrived late in the afternoon and did not have enough time to hike to the top of the mesa, so I returned first thing in the morning to explore the entire area. The energy there is so amazing! Gentle and welcoming. Peaceful and quiet. Definitely a sacred site. Before hiking around, I drove up a 3 mile dirt road to the Veterans Memorial Scenic Overlook, dedicated to all American Veterans in 2004. From this vantage point, I was able to look down into the area where I would be hiking, the Dome Wilderness and Jemez Mountains.

After that, I headed back down through the ponderosa pine and piƱon-juniper woodlands. There are restrooms and picnic tables at the parking area, but no drinking water. If visiting during the summer, start early to avoid the hottest part of the day, and bring plenty of water. I hiked the Slot Canyon Trail first, a 1.5 mile trek through a breathtaking canyon that in places is barely wide enough to allow a person to squeeze through, then opens up to a steep (630 ft.) climb to the mesa for a gorgeous view of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley.

Two different geologic processes formed the rock layers. You can see the volcanic remnants that resulted in "igneous"rock formation. The white and silvery-gray pumice and ash called "tuff." Other eruptions spewed out larger fragments of igneous rock called "rhyolite" that vary from light gray to red. The wind and water erosion with deposits of sand, gravel and soil resulted in "sedimentary" rock formation visible in shades of darker gray, tan and orange.

When I made my way back down from the mesa, I headed towards the parking lot via the 1.2 mile long Cave Loop Trail. There is a human-formed cave along the way carved into the volcanic rock. Soot from ancient fires can be seen inside the cave. Wildflowers in the area can be sparse due to the dry, hot climate but one of my favorite plants, the Banana Yucca thrives here. Such a gift to the Native Americans of the Southwest, they enjoyed the fruit raw, baked or dried. Used the yucca leaves to make textiles, baskets and cordage. From the roots, they made yucca root shampoo.

I highly recommend this New Mexico high desert treasure. To get there, head north on I-25 from Albuquerque or head south on I-25 from Santa Fe, then take the Highway 22 exit toward Cochiti Reservoir. Follow the signs to the monument. Vehicle entry fee is $5; free with America the Beautiful Park Pass.  No dogs are allowed in the park. Plan on spending 3-4 hours in the monument as there is much to take in and absorb. The trails are well maintained; however, the area is prone to flash flooding and lightening may strike the ridges.


Fall/Winter (November 1 to March 10)
     8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Gates close at 4:00 p.m.

Spring/Summer (March 11 to October 31)
     7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Gate close at 6:00 p.m.

Holiday Closure Dates:

Thanksgiving Day
Christmas Eve
Christmas Day
New Year's Day
Cultural Observance (spring)
The national monument may be closed at any time by order of the Pueblo de Cochiti Tribal Governor

Happy Hiking!


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