Stoneage Tents and Treeless Tenancy

I am one of the last to leave the small Jemez Springs forest service campground upon news of the entire Santa Fe Forest closure.  As I pull out and give a last wave to the camp host, (who is allowed to stay through the closure,) he says “With all these people leaving the forest, you’d better get to where yer gettin’, girl!”    It’s a Friday morning, and the forest fires are not the only thing heating up.  The temps are now starting to creep on up into the lower 90’s, making camping without hookups uncomfortable.  So I am facing the triple threat of a weekend, rising temperatures, and a forest of displaced campers now looking for a place to light.
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But I can’t go too far. I’ve got a flight out of Santa Fe at 6:30 AM (yes, AM!) on Tuesday, leaving the Winnie behind in storage in Santa Fe. So I need to stay relatively close to town. I scour all my resources both online and off, and zero in on Cochiti Recreation Area just 40 miles outside of Santa Fe.  It’s an Army COE campground overlooking Cochiti Lake, and they offer electric hookups for half price with my Geezer Pass!

Cochiti Lake is beautiful enough with it’s cool blue water complemented by steel gray hillsides.  It’s a color palate that would receive any realtor’s stamp of approval for potential to appeal to the mainstream.  But not a tree in sight.  After lounging beneath cottonwoods and hiking through ponderosa pines for the past nine days, it feels downright barren and exposed.  So much so that I didn’t take a single photo of the lake or the campground.IMG_5079 IMG_5090 IMG_5082

BUT!  It’s got a few things going for it besides cheap electricity.  A brand new laundromat just outside the entrance.  A fairly decent swim beach.  And just 5 miles down the road is the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  Crazy, tent-shaped (more like tipi-shaped) cones right out in the middle of nowhere!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, a BLM-managed site, was designated as a National Monument by Former President Bill Clinton back in 2001.  Ah, yes. Acts of preservation. By our President. I vaguely remember those.

The formations were formed as a result of a volcanic blast 6 to 7 billion years ago which left pumice, ash, and tuff over 1,000 ft thick.  Eons of erosion caused the unique tent shapes to form.IMG_5091 IMG_5098

I had seen photos of these rocks on others blogs, and always wanted to explore it, so the timing was right.  I knew to expect the tent-shaped rocks.  What I didn’t expect was the lovely slot canyon. The nice ranger-man at the guard station told me to go there first to beat the crowds.

I knew from my research that this area fills up early, and visitors can be held at the gate when the parking area fills up. So in a rare move, I am up with the sun, waiting in line at the gate before it opens at 8:00am.  There are only a half a dozen cars in front of me.  With my hiking boots already on, I know I can smoke ‘em!   I want to be one of the first in that slot canyon!IMG_5094 IMG_5100 IMG_5107

It’s already warming up by 8:00am, and I can feel the heat reflecting off the sandstone.  But the slot is cool and quiet.  As I meander through, the morning birds are still singing overhead.  It feels like a magical place that I have all to myself.  The echoing quiet, the contrast of heat and cool, the pale shades of sandstone take me back to places explored in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan. I am lost in thought, enjoying the moment. But have to speed up. I can sense them coming…

I continue on up to the overlook.  By now, I am starting to be overtaken by people intent on racing to the top, then all bunching up together out on the furthest point of the overlook, as if they were tagging a horizontal summit. I observe that the view is actually much better at an intermediate point along the way, so I stop to take in the view.IMG_5123 IMG_5125 IMG_5132

By the time I start the decent from the overlook, back through the slot canyon, it’s a mob scene.  Flip-flop wearing civilians in the baking sun carrying miniature-sized disposable water bottles with an inch of water left.  The slot is stuffed with everything from a Sari-wearing grandmother to a three-wheeled baby stroller.   What a dramatic change from my hike up the canyon!

As I leave the park through the exit gate, there is a line…waiting. Meanwhile, I’m on my way back to the cool confines of the Winnie. This is one time where every squawk of my early morning alarm clock was worth it!

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14 thoughts on “Stoneage Tents and Treeless Tenancy

  1. What a beautiful site. I never knew that NM had rock formations like those you pictured. Hope your flight is uneventful.

  2. We were right there! Why did we not see this? I’ve seen others’ photos, but, as usual, yours pry me straight up out of my miasma and over to Google Maps to start a route!

    Some day those wheels WILL turn!

    Virtual hugs,


  3. COE campgrounds are usually wonderful in one way or another, even if it is only half price electricity and some kind of water. The tuff formations look a lot like Cappadocia in Turkey, one of our favorite travel spots. Still, you are showing me parts of New Mexico that I haven’t seen. Looking forward to some time to explore the back parts of that state, but NOT in the summer, for sure. We are laying low for summer. One of the benefits of not being full time I guess. Always trade offs, one way or another.

  4. You got up early two days in a row )

    Thank you so much for this post as we will certainly check out this National Monument after the balloon festival in Albuquerque. I have never heard of COE campgrounds before. Do you have to have a military connection to use them?

    • H, Contessa. No military connection required for the Corp of Engineers campgrounds. My experience is they are typically located around lakes. I think they may be more prevalent in the Southeast US, as we had several in Georgia. Not a lot of frills, but always clean, well maintained, and affordable.

      • Corps of Engineers campgrounds are to be found where there is COE jurisdiction over a dam, reservoir, or canal network. Along the Columbia river above and below the dams, for example.

  5. One reason I love Take To The Highway: you are always one step (many miles and months) ahead of me, Suzanne, providing a detailed experience log of any particular place down to season, specific location, great spots in the area to explore and even best time of day to do so! Just so happens I recently put “Tent Rocks” on my Top Ten list of places to visit/explore while in NM this October. And here you are with all the Good Stuff of detailed logistics to ensure I’ll have a great “how to” adventure under my belt before I ever pack my camper for the trip!

    Oh, sure, I’ll leave enough time open for serendipitous happenings to keep the adventure my own…but doggone! It helps so much with trip planning to have set in stone details which can be planned prior to setting off cross country.

    Now, from the comments above, it appears I’m not the only reader who will take advantage of your trip planning generosity. Looks like I’m going to have to get up extra early on Tent Rocks day to hastily beat out Judie, Terri and Contessa to the trail head. I’m beginning to feel like one of those crazies who tent it out in the parking lot of Best Buy to get a jump on the latest iphone before they sell out! Kidding! I’d love to meet up with other followers of your blog. If we all happen to congregate at the gate the same time we can pull out our water bottles and offer up a toast to our fearless leader! Thanks, Suzanne, for all you do to help provide a light along the path (with superb writing and photos) to keep me from bumbling and stumbling along with no clue. Yours is my fav travel blog for just this reason. 🙂

  6. Glad you got there early! These are not the type “hikers” you want to travel among. for sure! We chose a day with a chance of rain which kept many away. Not the best for photos but best for crowds.

  7. I had not heard of these tent-shaped rocks nor the slot canyon. Really enjoyed this post and living vicariously through my fellow bloggers. Staying in So Cal for the summer is not my idea of a good time.

  8. The cones look like an army of gnomes standing guard over the slot canyons. I love your description of the crowds you observed on the way down. We too like to get out before the masses but at times will be one of the many lemmings on the trails.

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