The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a remarkable outdoor laboratory, offering an opportunity to observe, study, and experience the geologic processes that shape natural landscapes. The national monument, on the Pajarito Plateau in north-central New Mexico, includes a national recreation trail (see “Activities” below) and ranges from 5,570 feet to 6,760 feet above sea level.
The cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Tremendous explosions from the Jemez volcanic field spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments), while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a “pyroclastic flow.” In close inspections of the arroyos, visitors will discover small, rounded, translucent obsidian (volcanic glass) fragments created by rapid cooling. Please leave these fragments for others to enjoy.
Precariously perched on many of the tapering hoodoos are boulder caps that protect the softer pumice and tuff below. Some tents have lost their hard, resistant caprocks and are disintegrating. While fairly uniform in shape, the tent rock formations vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet.
As the result of uniform layering of volcanic material, bands of gray are interspersed with beige and pink-colored rock along the cliff face. Over time, wind and water cut into these deposits, creating canyons and arroyos, scooping holes in the rock, and contouring the ends of small, inward ravines into smooth semi-circles.
Historical & Cultural Perspective
The complex landscape and spectacular geologic scenery of the national monument has been a focal point for visitors for centuries. Before nearby Cochiti Reservoir was built, surveys recorded numerous archaeological sites reflecting human occupations spanning 4,000 years. During the 14th and 15th centuries, several large ancestral pueblos were established and their descendants, the Pueblo de Cochiti, still inhabit the surrounding area. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the traditional Keresan language of the Pueblo.
In 1540, the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado encountered the Pueblo de Cochiti. Throughout the 17th century, settlers would follow Juan de Oñate’s route along the Rio Grande Valley, bringing trade, farming and domestic animals, and claiming land grants from the Spanish Crown. In 1680, the Cochiti people joined other pueblos in a rebellion that drove the Spaniards south to El Paso, Texas, but the Spanish returned permanently in 1692. By 1870, iron rails stretched into the territory of New Mexico bringing loggers, miners and others to enjoy its rich natural resources.
Plants & Animals
In the midst of the formations, clinging to the cracks and crevices high on the cliff face, the vibrant green leaves and red bark of the manzanita shrub stand in sharp contrast to the muted colors of the rocks. A hardy evergreen, the manzanita produces a pinkish-white flower in the spring that adds to the plant’s luster. Other desert plants found in the area include Indian paintbrush, Apache plume, rabbitbrush, and desert marigold.
Depending on the season, you are likely to see a variety of birds. Red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, violet-green swallows, Western Scrub-Jay, and an occasional golden eagle soar above the area or use piñon-covered terrain near the cliffs.
The ponderosa pine and piñon-juniper woodlands provide habitat for big game and nongame animals. Elk, mule deer, and wild turkey frequent the higher elevations. Coyotes, chipmunks, rabbits, and ground squirrels are prevalent.
The national monument includes a national recreational trail. It is for foot travel only, and contains two segments that provide opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, geologic observation and plant identification. Both segments of the trail begin at the designated monument parking area. The Cave Loop Trail is 1.2 miles long, rated as easy. The more difficult Canyon Trail is a 1.5-mile, one-way trek into a narrow canyon with a steep (630-ft) climb to the mesa top for excellent views of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, Sandia mountains and the Rio Grande Valley. Both trails are maintained; however, during inclement weather the canyon may flash flood and lightning may strike the ridges. The Veterans Memorial Trail is a 1-mile long loop trail, rated as very easy and is wheel chair accessible. The Veterans Memorial is located at the end of a 3 mile long gravel surfaced road overlooking picturesque Peralta Canyon and Jemez Mountain peaks. Picnic tables, shelters and toilets area available at both sights.
Facilities / Services
Restrooms. Camping and RV hookups are available at Cochiti Lake Recreation Area.
Cochiti Lake Convenience Store is approximately seven miles from the national monument parking area and is adjacent to the Village of Cochiti Lake and the Cochiti Reservoir.
Location / Access
The national monument includes 4,645 acres of public lands located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe and 55 miles northeast of Albuquerque, with the most direct access from Interstate 25. From Albuquerque, take the exit for Santo Domingo/Cochiti Lake Recreation Area (Exit 259) off I-25 onto NM 22. Follow the signs on NM 22 to Cochiti Pueblo and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Turn right off NM 22 at the Smoky Bear sign past the turquoise water tanks on the hill onto Tribal Route 92, which connects to BLM Road 1011. From the fee station, travel five miles to the national monument’s designated parking/picnic area and trailhead.
From Santa Fe, take the Cochiti Pueblo Exit 264 off I-25 onto NM 16. Turn right off NM 16 onto NM 22, and follow the signs to Cochiti Pueblo and the national monument.
A portion of the five-mile access road to the national monument crosses Pueblo de Cochiti tribal land. Along with the pueblo, neighbors in the vicinity include the Santo Domingo Indians, the Jemez Indians, private landowners, the Santa Fe National Forest and State of New Mexico. Please respect these landowners and their property.