Rock and Roll Through Wilderness

The Kasha-Katuwe Rocks National Monument in New Mexico is known for its cone-shaped rock formations, hiking trails and birdlife. 

If you are on Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque in New Mexico, you must stop at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This geological wonder is a splendid site for viewing and photographing the cone-shaped rock formations, while hiking one of its several recreation trails.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is under the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was proclaimed a U.S. national monument by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

The stunning cone-shaped rock formations at Kasha-Katuwe are composed of pumice, tuff and ash deposits from volcanic eruptions that occurred six to seven million years ago. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the traditional Keresan language of the pueblo. These rocks are scattered around in several groups at the Peralta Canyon, on the Pajarito Plateau of the Jemez Mountains. An ancient volcano in northern New Mexico created the area known as Jemez Mountains. The Pajarito Plateau, home of the monument, is composed of volcanic tuff and dissected by erosion into canyons and mesas.

Everywhere around the monument and in the nearby valleys, visitors can see pieces of translucent black glass, known as Apache tears. These are also remnants of the volcanic eruption that led to the formation of the tent rocks.

The beautiful landscape around the monument has attracted settlers for centuries. In the 14th and 15th centuries, a number of ancestral pueblos were established in the area. The Cochiti Pueblo, where the monument resides, is a descendant of the medieval settlements.

In the 16th century, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado wrote about the area’s inhabitants, Pueblo de Cochiti, in his diaries. In the 17th century, settlers followed the steps of another Spanish explorer, Juan de Oñate, along the Rio Grande Valley, bringing trade, farming and domestication of animals to the region.

Kasha-Katuwe was little known to the wider public before it was proclaimed a national monument. Since then, the site has become a major tourist attraction. It has developed new facilities like hiking trails, picnic tables, restrooms and a gift shop.

The best way to enjoy the scenery is to hike one of the trails. The monument includes a national recreation trail, which is for foot travel only. The Cave Loop trail is the easiest and is recommended for children and the elderly. The nearly two-kilometer trail leads visitors through the ground level of the site and offers close-up views of the tent rocks. More strenuous but also more rewarding is the Canyon Trail, the 2.4-kilometer one-way trek, which branches off the Cave Trail and involves climbing up the steep, narrow passages up to 640-foot elevation. The Canyon trail offers splendid views of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez and Sandia mountains, and the Rio Grande Valley. The Veterans Mountain Trail is a 1.6-kilometer-long loop trail, rated as easy and wheelchair-accessible.

A walk through the cliffs will offer a glimpse of plant life like manzanita shrub, Indian paintbrush, Apache plume and desert marigold, in contrast to the white and gray of the rocks.

The area around the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks Monument is a good spot for bird watching. One can see a variety of birds like red-tailed hawks, ruby-crowned kinglets, house finches and violet-green swallows, alongside animals like elk, mule deer, wild turkey, coyotes, chipmunks and rabbits. This mix of nature and wildlife punctuates the scene’s remarkable geological formations and make it a lively and unmistakably unique landscape.

Natasa Milas is a freelance journalist living in Washington, D.C.


Paintings on Rocks

The Mahabharata portrays many adventures of the mighty hero Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers. Once the brothers were banished from their kingdom, they went to rock shelters to hide. Legend has it that Bhimbetka rock shelters derived their name from “Bhim baithka,” meaning “the sitting place of Bhima.”

Bhimbetka rock shelters, an archaeological site that exhibits the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent, are located inside the Ratapani Tiger Reserve in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The site is well-connected by both air and road. Bhopal is the nearest airport and railway station.

Bhimbetka rock shelters were discovered in 1957 by archaeologist V. S. Wakankar, and in 2003, they were listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. The rock shelters were inhabited 100,000 years ago and provide evidence of early human settlements and cultural evolution. Many shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings which date back 30,000 years.

The paintings found within the rock shelters appear to date as long back as the Mesolithic Period. These include scenes of hunting and gathering, and also feature local animals, warriors, dancers, etc. They range in color, with the most prominent being red and white. One of the most interesting paintings is the so-called “zoo rock,” depicting a variety of local animals.

The cultural traditions of the inhabitants of the 21 villages adjacent to the site bear a close resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings, mentions the UNESCO website.

The rock shelters are surrounded by rich flora and fauna. A walk among naturally-carved rocks and dense forest with sightings of wildlife makes the visit to Bhimbetka rock shelters a memorable experience.