Just south and slightly west of Santa Fe, New Mexico is a wonder of geology. Kasha Kutawe Tent Rocks National Monument is a well worth it side trip between Albuquerque and Santa Fe; with a surprise slot canyon and unique rock formations.
I first heard about Kasha Kutawe Tent Rocks while perusing my favorite website for off the beaten path adventure. A few years went by and though I’d been west on 1-40 several times, it hadn’t worked out. On this trip though, I purposely planned a few spare hours with which we could explore the otherwordly and little known park. The park lies within tribal lands and it is worth making a note to be respectful of the sacred ground. Teaching my children to be respectful of all land is one of the core lessons I hope to impart on them, and this was another opportunity to weave in that lesson. A slight dusting of snow had fallen the night before and the only marks on the trail were animal tracks. We arrived very early and as I loaded up our hiking pack as our fingers promptly went numb from the early morning chill. The kids were buzzing with anticipation to get down the trail and I couldn’t believe our luck to have the trails to ourselves for the morning; perhaps a benefit of wintertime exploring.
Stunning sandstone layers invite and guide you into the slot canyon as the trail fades into the rock waves. It was cold as the sun had not yet reached the canyon floor.
The trail we chose began as a paved path, which gave way to crushed grave, and eventually began to wind into the slot canyon. Just before the trail entered the canyon we met a massive pine tree in the path. The gnarled roots were exposed and it was quite a wonder how the tree remained alive. Standing tall, strong even, and the roots held tightly despite the years of erosion. It was quite beautiful and I paused to take some photos. Immediately after that the trail disappeared and we followed the canyon floor. We walked along, our hands gently trailing the sandstone walls. At times the walls were smooth and wavelike and at others it seemed like concrete had been poured over a rock pile. My children had so much fun observing all of the different types of rocks embedded in the canyon walls. The hike itself was not difficult – at least to the point that we made it to before becoming too cold. It was also breathtaking just for the immense beauty of the sandstone structures, seeming to rise like tents in places.
After we left the tall walls of the slot canyon we explored only a bit farther before stopping to turn around. Cold fingers and toes were beginning to become uncomfortable. The views heading back into the slot canyon were just as amazing when we turned around. Back in the canyon we stopped for a moment and I asked my children to just be still and silent. They had never experienced the sound of silence in the immensity that we did in that moment. Defeaning. Intense. And unsettling. We all closed our eyes briefly and when I opened mine both kids were staring back at me wide eyed, and eager to talk. Soon we were back to laughing and climbing our way back out; they were eager to get on the road to Nana and Papa’s house. That moment still hangs with me and I hope one day we can return and pause a bit longer.
If you’re curious to learn more about the area, spend a little time reading the Bureau of Land Management website. I would also recommend reading it before you make a visit to the area. The entrance fee is $5 per carload, or free with an annual Parks Pass. As you explore this beautiful piece of geologic wonder, please be respectful of the land and practice Leave No Trace principles.