West of the Jemez Mountains, the verdant Ponderosa forests give way to a desert environment. The soil itself turns red, and majestic rock walls rise high above the landscape. Carved into these cliffs, a narrow canyon winds deep into the rock. This is the Walatowa Slot Canyon, just inside the borders of the Jemez nation.
Walatowa Canyon was formed by millions of years of erosion. Rainwater flows into the path of least resistance, carving deeper and deeper trenches into solid rock. The name “Walatowa” means “this is the place” and is actually the name the Jemez people use for their village. The trail itself has been named the “Red Rocks Trail” for obvious reasons.
Outside the confines of the canyon, the rest of the trail makes a nice loop through the open desert. Visitors can even find patches of cryptobiotic soil—colonies of algae, cyanobacteria, and fungi that build structures in the dirt similar to coral over long periods of time. Make sure to stay on the trail so as not to destroy these soil formations.
Know Before You Go
Access is controlled by Jemez Pueblo, which requires a $6 hiking permit. You can purchase this permit at the Walatowa Visitor Center, which has information and exhibits about the region in general, as well as a gift shop. The trailhead is across the road from the visitor’s center. Like all slot canyons, there is a risk of flash flooding, so check the weather report before you go.