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Ah, weekends. Weekends are for being outdoors and for hiking (unless it’s too hot, then I’m all for watching crap tv). Last Saturday, we finally had a break in our string of triple-digit heat, so a run up to a monument I hadn’t yet visited was in order.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque outside of the Pueblo of Cochiti. The monument, well known in New Mexico, is so close that I never could figure out why it took me so long to get here. Get your Parks Passes ready…you’ll use them here as well as this monument is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. (Really people, these passes pay for themselves if you make an effort to get out at all!)
The aptly named Tent Rocks Monument gets its name from the cone- (or tent-) shaped rocks formed here by volcanic eruptions that happened 6-7 million years ago. (I have a hard time wrapping my brain around just how long ago that was… exactly). There are lots of interesting rock formations to see here.Pay your fee or hand over your interagency pass, then make the short drive up the road to the parking lot for the first trailhead. Parking is plentiful, but will fill up as the day goes on. I suggest an early arrival, not only for parking, but also to beat the heat. (No swanky indoor restrooms, but there are several port-a-potties and outhouses).
Upon arriving at the first trailhead, you have two loops to choose from. (If you’re moderately active, you can easily do both trails in half a day). The Cave Loop sets you steadily uphill until you reach….a cave! According to the sign, the cave was made by humans at some point. Not a lot of information, but it was amusing to watch the many middle aged people who thought they could climb up into the cave (they couldn’t and you shouldn’t). There is a decent amount of incline headed up to the cave and one path is much worse than the other in that respect. If you’re avoiding steep incline, opt for the more popular trailhead rather than the return route.
We spend most of our time hiking the second trailhead into the slot canyon here. If you’ve been to Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you’re familiar with a slot canyon. Slot canyons are deep and not very wide. An area where wind and water have rushed through sandstone and/or limestone, slot canyons feature a lot of interesting, erosion-formed rock formations and some challenging (in a good way!) hiking.
The Slot Canyon trailhead increases about 630 feet in elevation in about a mile and a half. Not wheelchair accessible, this trail is narrow and is complicated by a sandy hiking surface, narrow passages (you may have to wait for hikers coming from the other direction before you can pass), and several rocks – of varying sizes – that’ll you need to billy goat climb over (coming down over these rocks is always somehow more difficult to me). The views are stunning. I wanted to stop and look at things from every angle. Plan to spend a couple of hours here and make sure you’ve got a hat and some water; while our hiking day was fairly cool, it can get very hot and sunny here.
After hiking here, you can opt to drive about 4 more miles up an unpaved road to arrive at a second spot that features a memorial park and overlook. There is a short trail here as well, but it isn’t long (and we didn’t hike it). The overlook is worth stopping for as you get a great view of the surrounding geography. On a clear day, you can see for a very long way. We’re currently battling 10 forest fires in our state (if you can summon up rain, please send some our way!) The view was a bit hazy, but still impressive.
You might get hungry after all this hiking. We neglected to bring a lunch and I was tempted to swipe a sandwich and some chips away from a family having a picnic nearby. Nothing to eat on-site here, so pack your lunch or plan to drive a bit further on to the Town of Cochiti Lake to find sustenance.