If you find yourself between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I highly recommend turning off I-25 for a little hike at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. With its brilliant white cliffs and unique cone-shaped tent formations we felt like we were walking into a fairytale. The name Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the traditional language of the Pueblo de Conchiti. We’ve been lucky to visit many of the geological wonders of the US Southwest, but this small, little-known place holds its own among the big names. Tent Rock’s two short hiking trails are loaded with amazing rock formations, mesa-top views, and a beautiful slot canyon.
Since I’m usually drawn to hikes that “go up to the top”, we set out first on the Canyon Trail. It’s a 3 mile (4.8 km) out and back trail that winds its way through a narrow slot canyon and rises about 630 ft (192 m) to a mesa top with wonderful views down to the tent formations and across to the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains. It’s a well-trodden trail, although not busy on a midweek morning in September. If you’re in moderate shape, it’s not difficult and barely long to work off a burrito, which we consumed in abundance while staying in Santa Fe.
The scenery along the route is stunning with the added bonus that the trail travels through a slot canyon. We don’t have slot canyons in the Pacific Northwest, and being able to scramble through one these narrow, smoothly-curved beauties always fills me with child-like glee. The photo below is coming down the canyon on the return journey and gives the illusion that it’s quite precipitous. Don’t let it scare you.
As we continued uphill beyond the slot canyon, we got a completely different perspective being among the “tents”, and eventually looking down on them. The tent rocks range in height from a few feet to 90 ft, and are the result of volcanic eruptions 6-7 million years ago.
The expansive views to the surrounding high desert are magnificent, and we enjoyed a little rest on a perfect rocky perch before heading down.
Cave Loop Trail
The 1.2 mile (2 km) Cave Loop Trail is great on its own if you’re looking for an easier hike with little elevation gain. It intersects the Canyon Trail about half a mile from the parking area, so it also makes a nice add on. It’s name comes from a small human-formed cave carved into the volcanic rock, but for me the highlight was the “village” of perfectly formed tent rocks and walking along the edge of the white cliffs. The dark clouds of an approaching thunderstorm made the white cliffs look particularly dramatic.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located about 40 miles south west of Santa Fe, off I-25 and makes an outstanding half day excursion. Although the trails are easy, they offer little shade and can get very hot. Bring water, a hat, and enjoy the remarkable geology of Tent Rocks!