Some places resonate with me more than others. I’m not always sure why or what the deciding factor might be, but when I stumble upon a unique landscape that gives me goosebumps, I know I’m someplace special.
Between all the social media platforms, there’s no shortage of finding exciting travel inspiration. The moment I saw a photograph of these cone-shaped tent rock formations, I knew I had to see this place with my own eyes.
35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a complex and unique geological landscape called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This relatively new monument was designated as such in 2001.
The sculpted cliffs and peaked hoodoos were formed from volcanic eruptions that occurred more than six million years ago.
There is a somewhat uniform layering of volcanic material causing bands of white, grey, beige, and pink colored rock. It’s a fascinating and perplexing sight.
Over time, wind and water sculpt these rocks creating canyons, scooping holes, and contouring hoodoos. Mother Nature’s artistic and creative hand had me awed and smiling during the entire two-plus hour hike. I found myself hiking this fun trail several times during our two-week stay in the Santa Fe area.
Without further adieu, let’s take a hike…..
Getting there: As we approached the fee booth station, we were greeted by a ranger. There’s a $5.00 daily fee (as of Aug 2016) or free with your Annual National Park Pass. From the fee station, we continued for five miles down a paved road that crosses private property owned by the Pueblo de Cochiti.
We are asked to respect the traditions and privacy of the local Indians, and thus, no stopping along the way, no photography/video, and no drawing/painting. Also, no commercial photography within the park is allowed without a permit.
Once we neared the trailhead, there were three different gravel parking lots that can accommodate just about any size vehicle (including RV’s). There’s a couple of vault toilets, but no water….. so be sure and bring plenty of drinking water. You’ll need it.
Unlike most national parks and monuments, there are no scenic overlooks near a parking lot around here. The only way to view the tent rocks and observe this stunning landscape is by foot; hiking via a dirt, sometimes sandy trail. And by the way, no dogs are allowed anywhere. You won’t even be allowed through the fee station with a dog in your vehicle.
The 1.2 mile Cave Loop Trail is rated easy and partly handicap accessible. There are some unique rock formations and a hand dug cave along this trail, but the real gem of the park is the Slot Canyon Trail …… definitely not to be missed.
The Slot Canyon Trail is a 3 mile (total) out and back hike with a 630-foot elevation gain and connects with the Cave Loop Trail.
We hiked the combination of both trails making for a wonderful 4.2-mile hike. For my level of hiking ability, this trail offered me the perfect amount of challenge and visual stimulation.
Although from Al’s point of view, there may have been way too much visual stimulation (if there is such a thing) which resulted in an excessive amount of photo-op stops, much to his chagrin. Perhaps that’s why my subsequent hiking visits to Kasha-Katuwe were tackled as a solo hiker 😁
The moment we connected with the Slot Canyon Trail, the cliff walls rose on both sides and I felt like I had entered a secret garden of sorts. I believe, oh my gosh, was uttered by me around every bend. As the canyon walls continued to narrow, we were greeted with obstacles along the trail.
Nothing we couldn’t handle … however, those that are vertically challenged or suffer from short leg syndrome, like moi, may find themselves stretching out those leg muscles just a tad.
In some spots, the slot canyon became very narrow, so narrow that there was only room for one foot at a time.
Once we exited the slot canyon, we were welcomed by those teepee shaped hoodoos …. each uniquely sculpted by the elements and each equally as impressive.
It didn’t take long and we could feel the trail climbing and instead of looking up at the amazing tent rocks, we were now looking down upon them.
We continued up the trail and stopped frequently to look back.
As we reached the top of the trail, we had temporarily hiked away from the tent rocks. The trail continued out onto a narrow mesa which provided a bird’s eye view of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
And of course, a few more “Oh…. my…. gosh’es were uttered as I stood on the edge gazing down.
The return hike to the trailhead was every bit as amazing as it was at the beginning.
The Pueblo de Cochiti people view Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks as a very special place and justifiably so. After Al and I made this first hike, I returned three more times to tackle this perfect (in my book) hike. Perfect – even when considering all the obstacles one might bump into.
One morning, I hit the trail at 8:15 and encountered only one couple on the trail for that first hour. It was awesome having this amazing place to myself and hiking in solitude. All of my senses were alert.
The visual delight of the sun peeking from behind a rock was a reminder of a new day unfolding. I listened to the light sound of a lizard moving, and the loud squawking of birds soaring overhead. I breathed in the crisp clean air scented of pine. There was the random sound of tiny rocks tumbling, acting as a reminder that this land is in a constant state of change.
There was the occasional touch of admiration and respect for this special and sacred place.
Yes indeed, some places touch my soul more than others and Kasha-Katuwe touched mine more than I ever expected. I sure hope to return someday!
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