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Kasha Katuwe: A Persuasion of Rocks

Dance of rocks at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in central New Mexico. Photograph @ Stewart M. Green

There's something about the Western land that attracts my eye and sensibility. The land is elemental, defined by a storm of sunlight, armadas of cloud shadows, the quick beat of summer rain, and the strange and brooding shapes of all persuasions of rocks.

I like the bare bones land, the empty places seldom seen or sped past in bullet cars. Places like barren buttes towering over treeless plains or shale badlands sculpted in soft yet harsh forms. And then there are the improbable places--hoodoos that defy gravity and imagination, dry salt pans shimmering with watery mirages, endless cliff bands that recede to a red horizon.

Such a place is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in central New Mexico. The parkland, managed jointly by the BLM and Cochiti Pueblo on tribal land, is filled with strange forms chiseled from soft volcanic tuff by wind and water and time.

Unfortunately, Kasha-Katuwe, meaning "white rocks" in the Cochiti tongue, has been discovered. The monument though has a carrying capacity equal only to the number of vehicles parked in small juniper-shaded lots. When the spots are filled, no one can enter the park until a car leaves. This approach certainly keeps Tent Rocks from being overrun.

The park also takes preservation seriously. The only way to see the park is on its 3 trails and no cross-country hiking is allowed. Dogs are also banned from the park. Totally banned. Meaning Fido can't even ride into the park and wait in your vehicle while you hike. Fines for bringing a dog range from $350 to $1000 plus jail time.

I was at Kasha-Katuwe on Monday to update a hiking guidebook to Albuquerque, one of my summer projects, and shot this photograph of the tent rocks in an upper canyon. A host of images came to mind as I studied these rock formations--a parade of dunces, an army of soft-twist ice cream cones, a half-painted Christmas tree farm, an encampment of boy scout tents...

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