May 26, 2019

Looking back on the dozen years I lived in Florida, I realize I never hiked there. Not once. That is unless you count trekking across theme parks or a snowbird-packed Publix, and I definitely don't count those. To me, and I don’t think I’m alone here, the idea of hiking in Florida seems pretty miserable. It’s eternal summertime humidity combined with spiders the size of your hand. Nope. And I’m not trying to hate on the sunshine state. There’s just a lot of other things to love about Florida.

But it can be good to change the environment around you, and since moving to Colorado I’ve discovered what so many people here already know — that hiking is the perfect and sometimes only way to see things you simply can’t experience otherwise. I’ve logged (yes, like a true dweeb I kept track) 72 hikes. That’s about 196 miles and all completed in the first two-ish years of living here.

One of my absolute favorites, especially among the recent, has been the through the curiously-shaped formations within Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Moment on the Cochiti Pueblo between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I found Kasha-Katuwe, which means white cliffs in the ancient Pueblo language Keresan, by randomly zooming into the map surrounding Santa Fe. I’m not sure I would have found it otherwise. It doesn’t seem to be a common search result when digging through the internet for things to do around that area.

The trail that rises to the top of the mesa overlooking the formations is a 3.1-mile loop that even on a leisurely weekday morning in April can feel crowded. At times the path shrinks to a shoulder-width length, wrapping between massive boulders as it winds through the slot canyons where rushing water once flowed in.

Robust conical spires tower overhead as you wander through the site which edges up against the Jemez Volcanic Field. Known as the Valles Caldera in the central Jemez Mountains, the US Geological Survey reports that the caldera is the oldest of three similar calderas in the United States, the other two being in Yellowstone, Wyoming and Long Valley, California.

These tent rocks are also known as hoodoos and are leftover deposits of pumice, ash, and tuff — tuff is basically pyroclastic rock formed from volcanic ash — spewed from the caldera six to seven million years ago. You can also see hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, which claims to have the largest concentration on earth. Cool.

Here the most recent eruption occurred 40,000 years ago and covered much of New Mexico in ash. And while the USGS says that historically there’s been one eruption every 50,000 years, they also state that "it remains nearly impossible to predict whether such events will occur in the future."

Strange and otherworldly, it’s a shame that the visitor window is so narrow. Open daily from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM — closing procedures begin at 3:30 — I can only imagine how the experience would be enhanced at dawn or dusk and maybe even alone or with less people around. Wait times to enter the monument can average 30 to 90 minutes on busier summer days, so finding solitude seems improbable at the moment. Still, the site is well worth the visit and at $5 per vehicle a serious bargain.