Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe you can get off the highway (I-25) and drive toward the Rio Grande River, cross over by the Cochiti Dam and through the Pueblo of Cochiti to a little-known (but locally iconic) magical place called Kasha-Katuwe. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan, spoken on several New Mexico Pueblos including the Cochiti, Santa Ana, Zia, Kewa and San Felipe Pueblos. A more recognized name is Tent Rocks. I can’t help myself — I always go back and end up taking visitors there if they have the time and feel like spending the day outdoors and scrambling on a little hike.
I had visitors a few weeks ago and we spent the afternoon up at Kasha-Katuwe. Their reaction was that it was like being on one of those Hollywood versions of an alien planet from a 1950s science fiction movie. There is an alien feel about the place. In some respects it almost seems surreal…like you have ventured into Salvador Dali’s dreamscape.
It is a geological wonder. Once upon a time, there was a large volcanic eruption — or maybe many eruptions — followed by pyroclastic flows of hot ash. The ash was subjected to periodic flooding followed by yet more ash flows — each episode depositing a distinctive layer in the geologic record. Erosion — wind and water — scoured the area leaving fantastic cone-shaped rock formations.
Another feature is the slot canyon. Water flowing down through the flow area carved a narrow canyon that is only a few feet wide in places. The trail follows the twisting canyon and there are a few spots that require a steep climb or scramble. The colors change slightly based on the clouds or sunlight.
Parts of the canyon open up and reveal broader galleries with isolated pockets of plant life.
The canyon trail eventually leads to a more open area and a scrambling trail that leads to the top of the “white cliffs” — Kasha-Katuwe — and a panoramic view of the surrounding hills leading down to the Rio Grande valley. You can spend a lot of time wandering through the fantastic landscape. On our last visit we met the Park Ranger who was encouraging people to move out of the canyon due to approaching storms. I don’t think I would want to be in the canyon during one of our desert rainstorms.
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