I must admit that our expectations for Kasha-Ketuwe Tent Rocks National Monument weren’t high. We’ve hiked in Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Cedar Mesa, Zion—all locations renowned for spectacular canyon hiking and rock formations. When we’re visiting Santa Fe, our focus is more on art and culture than hiking. But this time, we decided to make the 35-mile drive to the monument, figuring at the least we would get in a nice walk.
We are so glad we made the effort to pry ourselves away from Santa Fe. Kasha-Ketuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is nothing short of spectacular.
Although small in comparison to the National Parks, the monument contains a fascinating concentration of hoodoos uniquely formed as tent rocks, as well as a beautiful slot canyon. The Canyon Trail, although relatively short at 3-miles round trip, is one of the most interesting we’ve hiked anywhere.
The slot canyon is very narrow—at some points perhaps two feet across, with towering rock walls hundreds of feet high. In many places, the footing isn’t even boot-wide. It’s a fun and somewhat rigorous trail, with just enough challenge to keep it interesting. Be sure to go all the way to the peak—the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape are breathtaking.
Definitely wear good hiking shoes—as far as hiking poles, one is helpful, but two would be a hindrance because of the narrow, rocky path and the necessity of climbing, hoisting oneself, and sliding down boulders along the trail.
Kasha-Ketuwe means “white cliffs” in the traditional language of the pueblo tribes of northern New Mexico. The teepee-like formations are unique in the Southwest—a violent volcanic explosion 6 to 7 million years ago left behind layers of pumice, ash, and tuff (rock made from ash). Over the millennia, rains and winds eroded the terrain, leaving behind tent-like formations—some capped by sandstone, which protects the formations. It’s an ever-changing landscape, at least in geologic time.
If you’re not up for hiking the steep and strenuous Canyon Trail, you can see beautiful tent formations along the one-mile Cave Trail, a nice wide path with almost no elevation gain. The Cave Trail also offers a close-up view of a fascinating ancient cave that was hollowed out by humans—the black scorch marks on the ceiling tell the story of fires that kept people warm 4,000 years ago.
Kasha-Ketuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is off the beaten path, even though it lies between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Avoid weekends and holidays if you can, and you’ll likely have solitude on the trail.
Next Up: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge