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Day Trips: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

A geological wonderland in the desert

By Gerald McLeod, August 9, 2019, Columns

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument looks like a fantasyland of conically topped sentries standing guard over the desert between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The unusual rock formations are the remains of layers of rock and ash deposited by ancient volcanic eruptions.

On the edge of the Rio Grande Valley, centuries of erosion cut towers and narrow canyons in the soft pumice and tuff. It is a unique and colorful landscape, with the walls painted in layers and cavities left in the mountainside where harder stones were dislodged.

The tent-shaped formations are hoodoos shaped by a constant battering of wind and rain. Some have rock caps while others have been worn to a point. The columns vary from just a few feet tall to more than 90-foot towers.

Two main trails take visitors back to the most spectacular formations and the best views of the surrounding country. Although portions of the hike are ADA accessible, the 1.5-mile Slot Canyon Trail traverses a slot canyon and climbs almost 1,000 feet to a scenic overlook.

President Bill Clinton set aside the rugged, 5,402-acre national monument in 2001. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the preserve has many of the same rules of a national park.

The Pueblo de Cochiti surrounds much of the park, and the community operates a visitor center near the entrance. The tribe is descendant from the Pueblo people who once occupied the nearby Bandelier National Monument.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe off I-25. Admission is $5 per vehicle from 8am to 4pm. The best time to visit is in the morning; weekends can get very crowded.

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