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. Watch for the sign to Cochiti Reservoir/Dam. The turn off to Tent Rocks is directly across from the dam.
The area’s unique tent rock formations are the result of volcanic rock and ash deposited by a pyroclastic flow from the Jemez Volcanic Field 6 to 7 million years ago. Weathering and erosion of these layers has created canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks are cones of soft pumice and tuff beneath harder caprocks. They vary in height from a few feet to over 90 feet.
Facilities include parking, a self-pay fee station (entry $5 per vehicle in 2016, part of which goes to the Cochiti tribe), rest rooms, and picnic places. Tent Rocks is day use only. There is no campground. Primitive camping is not allowed. However, there is a campground a few miles away at Cochiti Lake.
There are two linked recreational 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. The day pass is $5. There is no camping. Dogs are not allowed. Cell phone reception is hit and miss depending on where you are standing.
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.