Hiking through a slot canyon is a lot like walking through a topless cave. And there are three fantastic slot canyons in New Mexico you need to see.
The first time I walked into one of these sculpted canyons, I was awestruck. Relief hit when I entered the cool and shady womb-like ravine. The oppressive desert sun and heat don’t exist within the depths of a narrow slot canyon. Lighting is less harsh and more favorable to photographs, too.
Primal survival instincts kicked in to remind me that this would be a perfect place for an ambush. While bandits aren’t much of a concern anymore, slot canyons offer no escape from flash floods, so be mindful of the season and the weather before venturing onward.
Slot canyons are waterless oases until monsoon season arrives. You can see the evidence of the brief, wild, and dangerous flash flooding in the curves of the canyon. Water is the master sculptor of these gorges.
Few people know about this slot canyon north of the Robledo Mountains. The trail is unmarked and is notoriously hard to follow. I was lucky enough to hike this trail on a rare busy day, so I followed other hikers to the canyon. The trail weaves through arroyos and is bordered by mesquite and creosote bushes. I wouldn’t worry too much about getting lost; lone hikers can see the canyon’s cliffs from the trailhead and along the trail.
Most trail guides will tell you that this is a 2.4-mile loop that crosses the Rio Grande, but since the trail is more of a corridor, I didn’t have to cross the river and hiked it as an out-and-back. When you get to the canyon, the sedimentary rock will gradually rise from knee-level to tower above you. The pebbly walls tell ancient stories to geology lovers. This area of New Mexico is filled with fossils, too. Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is a few miles south.
Head to northern New Mexico for a slot canyon served with a side of extra hoodoos. This area is officially closed due to COVID-19, but when it opens again, pack your bags for a day of exploration. You’ll have to leave your dog at home for this adventure, but you won’t want to miss checking out the alien landscape.
This area was formed by a time of epic volcanic activity six to seven million years ago. The walls in this slot canyon are composed of the pumice and other igneous rock you’ll see in the monument. The slot canyon and cave loop is three miles with a decent 839-foot elevation gain. The entrance to the cave looks like a giant cookie cutter punched through the rock. If you’re in the mood for a slot canyon in an alien landscape, check this place out. It’s out-of-this-world beautiful (I’m sorry, I had to say it!).
Hot day? Are you up for wading through a shallow river? Head northwest of Santa Fe to find this forested slot canyon. If you’re a fan of swimming holes and waterfalls, you’re in for a rare treat. Bring your canine swimming buddy along for the ride, too. The Jimenez East River Slot Canyon trail is an easy 2.2 miles of strolling through the stunning landscape.
As you can imagine, this trail gets busy on a hot summer day, so don’t expect to quietly float in peaceful solitude. This trail isn’t well-marked, and has been described as a “choose your own adventure” hike. Venture a short way south to see Jemez Falls before you call it a day.