Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a very popular hiking destination for residents of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Located on Cochiti Pueblo, Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Keresan language. For some inexplicable reason they put the sign on the exit rather than on the highway, making it more of a challenge for first time visitors to find it. Driving directions below.
The American Southwest is a visually stunning petrie dish of geology. Whereas the study of rocks may seem dry in a classroom setting, terms like “weathering,” “erosions,” and “strata” come to life when exploring the southwest. Recognizing the different types of stone, and what the striation in the stone indicates, is like understanding the language of the earth, a testament to a story of the land itself.
Jemez Volcanic Field
Kasha-Katuwe is located on the Pajarito Plateau, at an elevation of 5700-6400 feet above sea level. Like most of the region, the volcanic activity that formed the Jemez Mountains sculpted the peculiar landscape. The Jemez volcanic field has been active for the past 15 million years. It formed at the intersection of the Rio Grande rift and the Jemez lineament, an ancient northeast-trending fault line that has been a locus of volcanism for the last 10 million years. The Valles Caldera is the third largest super volcano in the United States. It sits on top of an older caldera, the Toledo caldera, which may be on top of an older caldera. Geologists continue to debate the details. The calderas were formed during voluminous eruptions in the Jemez volcanic field 1.61 and 1.25 million years ago.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is southeast of the caldera. The massive pyroclastic eruption from the Valles Caldera buried the surrounding landscape in layers of debris. Layers of soft, spongy-looking rock, known as pumice and small rock fragments called tuff settled across the landscape for miles beyond the caldera. Boulders the size of a car mixed in with the smaller debris, weighing down the underlying mix of sediment. The weight compacted the strata into a crumbly matrix rock that resembles a cement mixture. It is malleable, easily sculpted by wind and water. Many of the layers are light colors, which is the basis of the monument’s Keresan name. Over time, weathering and erosion carved slot canyons and tent rocks.
Soft pumice and tuff form the base of the tent rocks. They vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet. Most of them have a distinctly conical shape and some retain their caprocks of harder stone. The cluster of Tent Rocks near the parking lot range in height from a few feet to 30 feet tall. However, most of them have already lost their caprocks, which represents the last stage in the life cycle of a hoodoo. Once a hoodoo loses the protection of the caprock, they are exposed to the elements, which accelerates the process of erosion.
Watch the edge of the eroding mesa as you hit the trail for a textbook example of hoodoo formation. The forces of water and wind continue to carve hoodoos from the cliffs. As the trail continues beyond the slot canyon, the hoodoos become larger and more varied in shape.
The short, steep slope to the overview offers a panorama of the hoodoo life cycle. Stop frequently to catch them in different light. Some have eroded to lumps, while others are still crowned with their protective caps. The expansive view of the Rio Grande valley and Jemez Mountains from the top of the cliff is well worth the short climb to get there.
“Apache tears” are small, rounded pieces of obsidian, volcanic glass. They are common at Tent Rocks. They are eroding out of the gravels in the tuff. Groundwater moving through the sediment hydrates the glass composites, converting the black obsidian to gray perlite. However, when the perlite forms around a composite that wasn’t fully saturated with water, it creates a shell, with a core of obsidian. The tear drop shaped obsidian pieces are exposed and wash into drainage systems and arroyos as the perlite erodes. DO NOT collect them!
Rio Puerco BLM Field Office
100 Sun Avenue NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109
Field Office: (505) 761-8700
Monument: (505) 331-6259
Hours: 8 AM – 4 PM
Fee: $5/vehicle. Part of the fee goes to Cochiti Pueblo for allowing access.
There is parking available. There are rest rooms and picnic sites. Tent Rocks is day use only. The park has no campground and primitive camping is not allowed. However, there is a campground a few miles away at Cochiti Lake.
- No camping
- Dogs are not allowed
- Watch for snakes
- Cell phone reception is hit or miss (mostly miss) depending on where you are standing.
From Albuquerque – Take the exit for Santo Domingo/Cochiti Lake Recreation Area (Exit 259) off I-25 onto NM 22. Follow the signs on NM 22 to Cochiti Pueblo and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
From Santa Fe – South on I-25 and take the Cochiti Pueblo Exit 264 off I-25 onto NM 16. Turn right off NM 16 onto NM 22, and follow the signs to Cochiti Pueblo and the National Monument.
The monument is closed for national holidays, Pueblo de Cochiti cultural observances, and routine BLM maintenance:
- Jan. 6
- Friday before Easter
- Easter Sunday
- Monday after Easter
- May 3
- July 13-14
- July 25
- Nov. 1
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
There are two hiking trails into the formations. The short Cave Loop Trail winds across an open area at the foot of the cliffs, with close-up views of cones, hoodoos, gullies and a cave-like alcove. The more strenuous Slot Canyon Trail forks off near the far side of the loop. It follows a narrow ravine before ascending to a fantastic vantage point above the formations. Slot canyons can be dangerous during inclement weather. Do not attempt the hike when it is raining or there are thunderheads dumping rain in the Jemez. It is a slot canyon for a reason. Flash flooding is common.
The trail through the slot canyon leads up the cliff overlooking the canyon. The hike is fairly short and easy. The only strenuous bit is the ascension to the cliff top; however, this is well worth the exertion, because the view of the Rio Grande valley, Jemez mountains, Sandia mountains and Sangre de Cristo mountains is magnificent.
Cave Loop Trail
The Cave Loop Trail is 1.2 miles. It begins north of the trailhead, passing one group of cones before curving around the edge of a small valley. The trail is fairly level, with nice views, but the best rock formations aren’t visible from this vantage point. The trail is well marked, with numerous warnings about snakes, the importance of staying on the trail and the ban on rock collecting. It intersects with the Slot Canyon Trail before looping back to the picnic area.
Slot Canyon Trail
The Slot Canyon Trail is 3 miles round trip. This is the popular trail, for good reason. It is one of the best short trails in New Mexico. Shortly after branching off the Cave Loop, it follows a wash that narrows quickly into a impressive slot canyon through the tuff. The curves of the canyon walls are beautiful, providing ample photo fodder for amateur and professional photographers. The slot canyon expands after about ¼ mile, becoming a narrow gorge before narrowing and ascending to a plateau, with numerous paths leading to viewpoints overlooking the rock formations. From the top the view is fantastic, a bed of pointy stone spires with a horizon of mountain ranges in all directions. The most spectacular tent rocks are clustered around the last part of the trail, with some over 90 feet tall.