For many of our readers, followers and fans, you will remember when we went to Bryce Canyon. It had wonderful formations called hoodoos that looked like you dripped wet sand on top of itself. Well, a few weeks ago we found a place that is a few miles off of Interstate 25, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque that has similar looking formations. Except these have cones on top of them. The place is called Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks or more formally the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
This place was made into a National Monument in 2001. It is located in Jemez Springs in the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. In order to get here, you need to take Interstate 25 North if you are at Albuquerque or south of it and Interstate 25 South if you are at Santa Fe or north of it. From either direction, take Exit 264 to exit the Interstate and onto NM-16. You will take this road until you reach NM-22 where you will turn right. After a couple of miles, you will need to turn left in order to stay on NM-22. This will take you straight to it. Here is a map.
Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks is open from 8am to 5pm everyday during the Fall and Winter. Gates close at 4pm. And during the Spring and Summer it is open from 7am to 7pm everyday. Gates close at 6pm. The fee to get in is very nominal at $5 per car load. If you have your National Park Pass, there is no charge. For more info on fees and hours, visit the BLM’s website.
Kasha Katuwe means “white cliffs”in the Pueblo language Keresan. As you will see from the pix we took, it is true to its name. The geology in the area is due to layers of volcanic rock and ash deposited by pyroclastic flow (created from a volcanic explosion). Over time, weather eroded away different layers in various areas to create canyons and the famed tent rocks.
The tent rocks are actually made of pumice and tuff. They have harder capstones that do not erode as quickly as the pumice and tuff, which is why the “tent” part often looks like it is bigger than the support below it. These things can range from a few feet to over 90 feet in height.
When we arrived at Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks, there were plenty of places to park. We drove around the areas until we found the most advantageous spot for us. We parked, put up our sunshade and we were ready to go. There were two trails to take. One was Slot Canyon which is 1.5 miles one way and climbs about 630 feet in elevation. The other trail was the Cave Loop which was 1.2 miles and had small gradual inclines and declines.
We chose to take the Slot Canyon Trail first. That way we could go to the end, come back and join up on the Cave Loop on the way back, which would lead us back to the parking lot. If you want to do both trails, this is the plan I suggest you follow.
The Slot Canyon trail brought us through some desert and scrub brush area with Kashe Katuwe (white cliffs) on both sides of us. As we continued to walk on the winding pathway, it took us by more brush and evergreens as well as some tent rock formations. I almost forgot to tell you, there are bathrooms (non-flushing) but there is NO WATER. So make sure you bring some. It is imperative. You are in a desert climate. In addition, there are benches before you get into the canyon that will allow you to rest.
After a while of twisting back and forth along the desert trail, you will come to the Slot Canyon. It is aptly named because in some areas it become narrow. Shouldn’t be an issue, even for claustrophobic people. The skinniest areas are still 3 to 4 feet wide. When you enter the canyon and you go into the shade, you will notice the temperature drop by 5 to 10 degrees. It is crazy, but it is a relief.
One thing I actually did not expect was to find tall evergreens in the canyon. Honestly, I did not expect to find them in the desert. But the canyon was even more surprising. As you go through Slot Canyon, you will come to places that are more wide open, then back to narrow. You will climb up and over rocks and even stoop down under a boulder. You will also see some tent rocks along the way.
At the end of the canyon, there will be a zig zag path that takes you up in elevation rather quickly. This will be one of your best views of tent rock formations. You will want to stop at every turn, about 10 to 20 feet, to look back towards the canyon. You will get a good look at the tent rock formations and realize they were overhead as you exited the canyon, but did not see them.
Once you get to the top of the zig zag trail, you are not finished, but almost there. The trail will still switchback, but more gradually. And you will be able to see different formations around you. Eventually you will crown to the top of the trail. If you have a hat, hold onto it as it is windy. The trail actually continues a little further from the highest point (back downward) out onto a ridge. We didn’t go that far because we felt we could see everything from where we were and the ridge gave no additional advantage in views.
We paused for a bit to hydrate, refuel with trail snacks and we were on our way back down the zig zag path and through the slot canyon. Once we exited the canyon, we had to navigate the desert trail a bit until we came to the turnoff for the Cave Loop (to the right). We took it and continued to hike. We eventually came upon the cave that Cave Loop was known for. It was a carving in the rock that Native Americans used for shelter. It was about 8 to 10 feet up to the entrance and climbing is forbidden. So we did not see inside.
Honestly we thought there would be more caves. But the one we saw was nice to gaze upon. If we ever went back, we would likely skip Cave Loop. After meandering a bit through and around some cone structures, we were back at the parking area. Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks was very enjoyable to me. I really liked the Slot Canyon Trail. Our pix do not do the scenery justice. I recommend this hike if you are anywhere near New Mexico. Safe Travels.