Tent Rocks, When Mountains Sneeze

AnnMarie McLaughlin | SantaFe.com - January 14, 2008

Okay, I admit it. I like pavement. I like air conditioning and cold water. I also like adventure. If you can relate, Kasha-Katuwe is the outdoor adventure for you. Known in English as Tent Rocks, this national monument is an easy drive south of Santa Fe on Cochiti Pueblo land. The last segment of road is dirt washboard that makes pavement lovers like me feel as if they’ve really gone off to do something daring.

A one-mile trail loops through the park and is even and smooth. The day I visited there was a woman making the trek in stilettos (really) and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend such footwear I have to admire that kind of nerve. Plus it gives you a clear idea of how accessible the path really is.

The “tent rocks” are cone shaped structures, some sweeping to 90 feet tall, formed over 6 million years ago when the volcano field to the north east exploded, sending ash and pumice across the landscape. So what you’re really doing out there is exploring the left-overs from the mountain’s big sneeze. Kasha-Katuwe: it even sounds like a sneeze and is Keresan, the traditional Cochiti Pueblo language, for “white cliffs”.

The cones look like huge piles of sand that might melt away in a light rain but of course they are hardy pillars and have been watching over the people at their feet for 4,000 years. Before the humans showed up it’s easy to imagine these rocks as the central gathering place for all the crawling critters. “So, come here often? There’s a full moon tonight”, said the Western fence lizard.

Your imagination runs free in a place like this where we had a number of lizards scurry ahead of us and stop, watching to see what it is the humans were up to. We listened hard for the thrilling, Western movie sound of rattlesnakes but contented ourselves with ravens and red-tailed hawks and of course, the close examination of coyote sign (that’s “poop” to you city slickers).

Not much time? Want to get back to the A/C? Looking to explore but not sure where to start? Kasha-Katuwe is a great fit.

Kids, it’s hot out there. Fill a large bottle with drinking water and put on your shades- the light ash in the cliffs makes the New Mexico sun particularly intense. But leave the stilettos behind. And gesundheit.