New Mexico protects a unique landscape where wind and water have sculpted layers of ash sediment deposited by volcanic eruptions that occurred 6-7 million years ago into cone-shaped “hoodoos” and narrow, twisting canyons.
The Native American tribe that inhabits this area of the Pajarito Plateau named the landscape Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs”. These peculiar volcanic tuff formations exist only at Kasha-Katuwe and at Cappadocia, Turkey, so it is worth making the trip to visit if you get the opportunity.
The park is located in a remote area about an hour north of Albuquerque and 30-45 minutes west of Santa Fe. Commercial airlines and rental car companies serve both of these cities (ABQ and SAF). Albuquerque is a larger city with more flight options. No public transportation is available to the monument. By car, travel Interstate 25 to exit 259 then head west on NM22, following signs to Cochiti Pueblo and Kasha-Katuwe (note that the route turns left just before Cochiti Dam). When blue water tanks become visible on the hill to the right, watch for a right turn onto Tribal Route 92 which enters the monument. There is an entrance fee and NPS access passes are accepted. The first parking lot is about 5 miles past the entrance station. All of the roads from I-25 to this parking area are 2 lanes but are paved and well-maintained.
Planning Your Visit
This monument is day-use only (no camping) and is open 8:00am to 5:00pm between November 1 and March 10 and 7:00am to 7:00pm between March 11 and October 31. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Spring and Fall are the best seasons to visit as they are the most temperate. Summer can be dangerously hot and thunderstorms can cause flash-flooding and muddy conditions. While there is a little shade available, the elevation is 5570-6760′ so the sun is intense; wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The arid climate can cause dehydration so bring plenty of water. Note that dogs are not permitted at this monument.
What to Explore
After you arrive, allow 3 hours to a half-day for your visit, depending on your stamina and interest level. There are designated accessible spaces at the first parking lot, where the trail heads are located. Picnic tables and accessible restrooms are also available. There are two trails that start at this parking area: the 1.2-mile Cave Loop Trail, and the Slot Canyon Trail which winds 1.5 miles through a narrow canyon and climbs 630′ to the top of a mesa. Cave Loop is the less strenuous of the two.
The surfaces of these trails vary along their length from smooth rock to hard-packed dirt and pebbles to soft, deep sand. People using wheelchairs should be able to traverse the lower sections of these trails near the parking area although assistance may be needed where there are uphill grades or sandy sections. Wide, knobby tires would be beneficial. It may be possible to reach the opening of the slot canyon, but the canyon itself is too narrow for wheelchairs and in some places it is necessary to climb over boulders that are wedged in the floor of the canyon. Even though the trails are not completely accessible, in my opinion the scenery at the parking area and on the lower section of the trails is still interesting and beautiful enough to make the trip worth-while.
To reach the Veterans Memorial Overlook, continue driving 3 miles past the trail head parking lot. The pavement ends at the trail heads and the road becomes dirt and gravel; a narrow, winding climb to the top of a mesa. This portion of the road is not recommended for RVs and can wash out in rainy weather. When I visited, it had been recently graded and was passable in a low-clearance 2WD car, but conditions will vary with the weather – inquire about its status at the entrance station. Once you reach the gravel parking lot at the overlook, there is a short concrete sidewalk to stunning vistas of the canyon and the Jemez Mountains. Binoculars or zoom lens will enhance the experience. Designated parking, accessible restrooms, and covered picnic tables are available. A narrow dirt foot trail encircles the bluff (about 1 mile) but is not recommended for wheelchair use.
Where to Eat and Sleep
There are no services at this park so bring your own food and plenty of water. A convenience store, gasoline and camping facilities are available 8 miles east at Cochiti Lake Recreation Area. This area is also scenic so you may want to include it in your itinerary. A full range of lodging and restaurant choices are offered at both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.