Exploring Tent Rocks National Monument
Worth The Trip
The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a short drive away from Santa Fe, and in my opinion it’s a must-see, must-do hike! Shaun and I walked the 3-mile “Canyon Trail”, which guides you through a gorgeous slot canyon, weaving through the iconic tent-shaped rock formations, and ends at an excellent peak with views for miles away.
The Tent Rocks were formed from volcanic eruptions over 6 to 7 million years ago! The cone-shaped rocks are unlike any formation I’ve seen before. The first peek of the tent rocks are early on the trail, looming over you from the beginning of the slot canyon. The end peak of the trail allows you to look down on the tent rocks, exposing dozens of formations previously invisible from the trail.
Native American History
Tent Rocks is located on 53,000 acres of Native American land, belonging to the Cochiti tribe. Upon entering the reservation, there’s a Visitor Center with handmade crafts from the local tribe (as well as your last chance to stock up on water/snacks before the hike). Between the Visitor Center and the National Monument, off to the left is the Cochiti Pueblo, established in 1250. A pueblo is a traditional Native American community of adobe dwellings, still occupied today by the local tribe. We drove slowly through the Cochiti pueblo in awe of the history— however, there are strictly no photos allowed.
There’s a total of 19 pueblos in the state of New Mexico, and each pueblo is their own sovereign nation. New Mexico has the second highest percentage Native American population within the states (second to Alaska). Because I’m Native American myself (a member of the Choctaw tribe), the Native American history of New Mexico is really what drew me to visit.
Although 3 miles is a short distance, the Canyon Trail was little more difficult than I anticipated. You climb from 5,570 feet to 6,760 feet above sea level and the elevation climb led to a bit of lightheadedness in the 90° heat— but at least it’s a dry climate instead of a sticky, wet heat! There is a shorter, second trail in the Tent Rocks National Monument, called the “Cave Loop” trail, but we were so hungry and nearly out of water that we called it a day after completing the Canyon Trail.
The skinny little slot canyon was my favorite part of the trail. The lines and waves in the walls of the slots are mesmerizing and incredibly photogenic with the sunlight seeping through. Some sections of the slot were just a few feet wide (see below), and some sections required all-fours to clamber up (at least for me!).