This post is part of a series of stories from our 2018 Spring Break road trip across New Mexico.
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Early in the trip planning, Susan texted me a photo she grabbed from Pinterest along with the message, “I wanna go HERE.” We did some digging and learned “HERE” had a name — Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument — and it was only an hour from Santa Fe. So it made the shortlist.
Kasha-Katuwe (kaw-too-wee), or just “Tent Rocks”, is one of those places that just doesn’t seem real. As we’d learned from our week-long adventure, New Mexico offers unique landscapes around every corner. The dunes at White Sands, the limestone decorations at Carlsbad Caverns, the cliffs at Bandelier — and there’s plenty of the state we didn’t even see! Tent Rocks was a perfect complement to our trip.
The park is as remote as we were all week, I think. It wasn’t well-marked but we had good directions, and there was no Visitors Center to speak of. The guys at the fee gate stamped Colt’s National Park passport and gave the kids Junior Ranger booklets, but it was clear this wasn’t the type of place that sees many… tourists. Fine with us! We came to hike!
The guys at the gate had warned us it was “overcast” — which we laughed about most of the day. Is this what New Mexicans consider overcast??
Before long, we hit the slot canyon portion of the trail. Found in many places in the Southwest United States, slot canyons are formed as water rushes through the rock. The slot canyon at Tent Rock is unique in that it is carved into volcanic ash – or tuff.
As we hiked, there were times the slot came to a point beneath our feet — the trail became just wide enough for one shoe.
Eventually, the slot canyon opened up and it was time to climb. We were promised an incredible view at the highest point of the trail, but it wouldn’t be easy to get there. The wind was starting to gust harder and the trail would only get steeper.
The kids were such troopers. We practiced good trail etiquette with so many other hikers out there with us, and we even ran into friends from Fayetteville! We’d seen them at the entrance gate, but caught back up with James, Gina and Hayden — friends of Susan and Charles — on the trail! We hiked the last bit of trail together and enjoyed a VERY windy summit as a group.
It was so windy and so bright up there, the poor kid we asked to take a picture of our group couldn’t see a THING. We’re lucky we were all in the shot. Susan’s hair cracks me up every time. Her hat had already blown right off her head – TWICE. We spent most of our time up there sitting on the ground because it felt safer — the summit wasn’t a big area and the wind was incredibly strong. You really felt like you could just get blown off the top!
So – the tent rocks. They’re called hoodoos and they’re caused by a combination of volcanic activity and erosion I couldn’t begin to explain. They are just the damnedest things, and one of the rangers at Bandelier told us the only other place in the world you can find rocks like these is in Turkey.
As they say, the summit is only halfway. It was time to make our way back down. Slow and steady back down the steep parts of the trail, then we got to enjoy the slot canyon all over again.
The more we travel, the less I even try to declare something my “favorite” but this hike was special. It was unique and difficult and the “New Mexican overcast” weather was absolutely gorgeous. If you’re in the Santa Fe area and looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure — put Tent Rocks on your list.
A few tips if you’re headed to Kasha-Katuwe National Monument:
- Bring a healthy energy level. This hike is not easy. The altitude reaches about 6300 feet, the trail is narrow and steep in sections, and you bring your own water. Tent Rocks is for the national park visitors who wanna get a little sweaty and dirty — and work hard for the best view in the area. If you’re hiking with kiddos — be sure they’re up for it. There’s no easy way down.
- Be early birds. As we hiked out, we had plenty of company. Get there early if you want some peace and quiet — and fewer traffic jams in the slot canyon portion of the trail.
- Take advantage of NPS goodies. If you have a 4th grader, print off a pass and get your entire family into parks and monuments FREE! And check out the Junior Ranger program — the requirements and activities vary from park to park but it’s always a good way for kids to get engaged.