February 24, 2016 by Deborah W. Trotter
Although I have spent quite a bit of time in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, until earlier this month I had never visited the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, south of Santa Fe off the main road to Albuquerque, near the Pueblo de Cochiti. The area is a “significant place” for the Pueblo people, but it is also a geologist’s paradise in which even English majors can get a sense of the forces that have shaped the natural landscape.
There are two main trails into the rocks, both of which start at the parking lot five miles from the fee entrance station. The Cave Loop Trail is 1.2 miles, rated easy because it is fairly level. The more difficult Canyon Trail branches off from the Loop Trail about a half mile in and continues another mile up through a narrow canyon, finishing with a steep 630 foot climb to the top of the mesa. Elevations in the National Monument range from 5,570 to 6,760 feet, so the last bit is somewhat strenuous. The reward of 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys, and the tent rocks below makes it well worth the effort.
Before the steep section, the Canyon Trail is either flat and sandy or requires climbing up and scrambling over sometimes slippery rocks, as well as some body contortions to get through stretches where the walls are nearly touching. Because of these unusual conditions and the seemingly endless unique rock formations that appear around every new bend in the trail, the overall feeling on the hike is one of adventure and discovery.
The Monument is known for varieties of birds, plants and wildlife, but the birds and animals must all have been hiding from us that day. We only saw lots of humans. When we started the hike, the parking lot was all but empty; it was nearly full upon our return. Tent Rocks is very popular with the locals, which is how we heard of it, and it was nice to see so many people outside, enjoying the fun in their vast backyard.