Looking up from the path in the narrow slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument , our eyes followed distinct layers of sediment that blasted from volcanoes eons ago. Those layers of ash, pumice and tuff deposits – in some places more that 1,000 feet thick “ morphed into mysterious cone-shaped mounds visible from the trail head. Similar in shape, the tent rock formations vary from about five feet to over 90 feet in height. Because of wind erosion, some of the tents' caprocks have fallen off or crumbled, but the majority of the spherical toppers remain intact. It's no wonder ancient civilizations, some of which date back more than 4,000 years, lived in the shadow of Kasha-Katuwe, or white cliffs. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado noted the area while traveling through the territory in the 1500s and pioneers later settled in the shadow of the strange, mystical peaks.
Photo by Furious George
For $5 per vehicle, hikers are allowed day privileges to hike and explore the canyon and surrounding area. We brought a picnic lunch, which we ate before setting off on the Canyon Trail. There are two main issues with this hike: the gravel road to the trailhead is horrendous and the canyon is so narrow and steep in short spurts that getting up (and down) posed problems for our group. Be aware the last quarter mile is a steep 650-foot climb “ or scramble “ to the top of the Pajarito Plateau. Though winded, we still enjoyed spectacular views of most of north-central New Mexico: the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez and Sandia mountains as well as the Rio Grande Valley lay below us. The plateau is a good place for a snack and water break before the descent.
Located less than 40 miles from Santa Fe and about 55 from Albuquerque on Cochiti Pueblo tribal lands, one of our avid hiker friends says Tent Rocks is from another world. If a day trip won't suffice, nearby Cochiti Lake Reservoir Area offers camp sites and RV hookups.
By Anna Philpot