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 are available at both sights.
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.
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.