Located about 50 miles north of Albuquerque, this place is one of my favorite locations in the entire state. I’ve done the hike several times and the level of amazement and wonder at the beauty to be found there has not yet waned. The Slot Canyon Trail at the Kasha-Katuwe* Tent Rocks National Monument is an opportunity to marvel at what the passage of time can do to a landscape.
*Kasha-Katuwe means “white rocks” in Keresan, a pueblo language. The national monument is located near the Cochiti Pueblo.
The name “Tent Rocks” comes from the cone-shaped rock formations (also called hoodoos) created from a volcanic explosion over 6-7 million years ago. The monument includes several areas for hiking and sightseeing, including the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook, Shelter Cave, the Cave Loop, and the Slot Canyon Trail.
The trail is a three-mile loop that is easily done in about two and a half to three hours. It is a beginner-level hike, which is great for someone like me who isn’t a hiker but enjoys the great outdoors. Both the Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trail begin at the same place, just off the parking lot. The Cave Loop trail circles the base of the tent rocks and is a mile loop, dotted with juniper trees and posted information about the geology and history of the area. At the half mile point of the loop, the Slot Canyon Trail breaks off to the right.
As the trail winds through the canyon, a large tree with gnarled roots big enough to hide behind acts as your portal to a sacred place. Once past the tree, the canyon walls rise up and the trail gets narrow. The modern world and all its trouble and worries disappear within this place as you wind past boulders and rocks and view trees and bushes that literally grow and survive off the sides of the canyon. The weight of time and the past pull you from your worries and cares as you begin to understand the temporariness of your place in the universe.
The first part of the Slot Canyon Trail is a gradual easy increase in elevation. Around the mid-point, the trail gets steep. You have to scramble over boulders and rocks as the path continues to rise. Railroad ties placed within the side of the mesa assist in the ascent, but it is still a steep journey. For someone afraid of heights (like me) there is always a big fear of just how temporary my place in the universe might actually become, but at Tent Rocks I always push past that, which is a sign of how wonderful this place is.
When you reach the top you’ll experience some truly beautiful views, as it seems you see the entire northern part of the state from here. After taking some time to rest and experience the beauty of the area, you’ll go back down the way you came, but you’ll be changed. And if you’re not changed, you’re not doing it right.
Tips for Your Visit
- There is a $5 fee to get into the area. Check out their site to ensure they are open the day you visit.
- Try to get there as early as possible (the monument opens at 7 a.m. in the spring and summer and 8 a.m. in the fall and winter). The Slot Canyon Trail is narrow in certain spots, and at the midpoint of the loop it you have to climb over some rocks and boulders as the elevation increases. If you go earlier, you don’t have to wait for other hikers, and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of being overheard by anyone as you wail about the heights and curse openly at Little Trickster for talking you into this trip (but maybe that’s just me).
- Bring your own drinking water, as there isn’t any running water at monument. Also, if hiking in the spring or summer, be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, as there is pretty much no shade.
- Be sure to bring proper footwear. While the hike is easy, it’s not flip-flop easy.
- Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
Visit the official site for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.