Located in northwestern New Mexico, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument preserves an amazing landscape of volcanic rock formations. Nestled among the Jemez Mountains, this region has experienced intermittent volcanic activity for the last 15 million years.
The rocks present at this park were deposited between 6 and 7 million years ago during a series of explosive rhyolitic eruptions. Vast amounts of ash and larger pyroclasts were deposited deeply over the area. Later buried by younger sediment and packed into rock, they have been again exposed to the elements. Known as the Peralta Tuff, this 1,000-foot thick section of hardened ash is interbedded with sand and gravel:
Larger gravel fragments have lead to the formation of the namesake tent rocks:
Rain and wind erosion easily wear away at the relatively soft tuff. In many spots, however, large pieces of gravel present obstacles to erosion. These rocks protect the soft ash beneath them from rain, leading to the conical structures that litter the area.
Eventually even these harder stones fall victim to erosion and fall away, and erosion begins to work away more rapidly at the bare tuff cones left behind.
An excellent hiking trail offers a strenuous but intimate way to experience the geology and scenery.
This 2.6 mile round-trip trail has over 600 feet of elevation gain beginning in a narrow slot canyon:
“Kasha-Katuwe” means “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the ancestral Pueblo people. Looking at the photo above, it’s not hard to see why it earned this native name.
The first part of the canyon trail follows a creek bed between the towering cliffs.
The tight squeezes involved made for an interesting hike through this beautiful landscape. Although pleasant in dry times, there was evidence of torrential flash flooding during rainstorms:
In many places the the roots of the local pines and other trees were exposed by intermittent floodwater.
From the bottom of the canyon the tent rocks loomed ominously overhead.
Before long the trail began to ascend, presenting some better views of the geologic formations:
These views only got better with elevation:
Near the top the views of the surrounding mountains were spectacular:
The end of the trail also provided a great overview of the tent rock formations:
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks is what I would consider a textbook “hidden gem” among America’s natural wonders. Although a national monument it’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and not the National Park Service (NPS), so it lacks some publicity. Few people visit this location to experience its excellent hiking, remote beauty, and fascinating natural features. I love empty out-of-the-way places like this, and I highly recommend it for those seeking the same experience.