South Mesa (Tsin Kletsin)

Diana approaching Tsin Kletsin
A longer hike at Chaco that takes you to an outlying site and then and through a canyon with interesting geology. This hike sees fewer people than many of the other hikes at Chaco Culture NHP.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: National Park Service; Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Region: Northwest; Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
start: 6141ft; 1872m end: 6141ft; 1872m
min: 6141ft; 1872m max: 6653ft; 2028m
elevation gain/loss: 751ft; 229m.
Length: 5.06mi; 8.14km. Length for full loop. 1.82 mile; 2.93 kilometers to the Tsin Kletsin Anasazi site.
surface: mixed
condition: Eroded in places, excellent in others
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: You have to climb up a slot canyon. The climb is an easy one.
Fee: $8.00. The park entry fee is payable at the visitor's center. This fee is good for seven days in the park.
Season: All year. Winter snow may temporarily close the trail. Summer will be hot.
Dogs: Unknown.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: Stay on the trail. The park is serious about this and does give tickets for leaving the trail.

You need a free backcountry permit to hike this trail. You obtain the permit at the trailhead. They enforce this requirement and will ticket you if you do not have one.

Please leave all artifacts as you find them.

Trailhead facilities: picnic area, trash can(s), vault toilet(s), water. at the visitor center
Hike attractions: geology, history, year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2003-09-13
Time it took us: 3:29.
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. People per hour unrecorded.
Cleanliness: 10.


Waypoint Type Description
CRINCNTrailheadCasa Rinconada and parking area for several backcountry hikes
TKJCTTrail junctionJunction of Tsin Kletsin loop trail and a spur trail to the archaeological site
TSINKLETSNTrail pointTsin Kletsin archaeological site at Chaco Culture National Historic Park


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

The National Park Service has made it much easier to find the park than in days gone by. You used to have to guess which road to take whenever you came to a fork. They now have good signs all the way in. They also have a map online.

From Cuba, take US 550 (old NM 44) past Counselor and Lybrook. Just past mile marker 112 is the turnoff, which is across the street from the Red Mesa Express gas station and convenience store. A sign indicates the turnoff to the left. The route is well signed.

After about 4.7 miles, you will turn right from the paved road onto a dirt road, county road 7950. Beware that the dirt road sometimes gets exciting when it rains. Do not cross the washes if there is any water running.

16.4 miles from the turnoff from US 550, the road turns left, and again, there is a sign here. When the road becomes really washboard-y, you are getting close. At 19.4 miles from US 550, you enter the park. The visitor center will be on your right after a mile or so. You must pay an entrance fee and obtain a backcountry permit at the visitor center before hiking.

From the visitor center, turn right. After about 3.5 miles, take the left branch to stay on the loop road. 3.7 miles from the visitor center, you will see the trailhead, which is Casa Rinconada, GPS CRINCN.

Casa Rinconada, the trailhead for Tsin Kletsin

About the hike:

A building in Casa Rinconada
You first walk through Casa Rinconada, where you see buildings such as this one. Morning light would be best for taking photos here. This photo by Diana Northup.
Near stop 10 on the Casa Rinconada trail, you come across this sign indicating the trail that heads to Tsin Kletsin.
Tsin Kletsin trailhead
Trail up the mesa, with people on the trail
The trail heads up the mesa.
Looking back from partially up the mesa, you can see the trail, Casa Rinconada, and the parking area.
the trail, Casa Rinconada, and the parking area
cairn with a smiley-face of lichen next to it
The trail is marked with cairns, this one with a smiley-face of lichen next to it.

As you near the mesa top, you go through a small slot canyon. Diana got this photo of Kenneth in it.

Once you are on a shelf, the trail is on sandstone.

Kenneth in the small slot canyon
part of Casa Rinconada
As you climb the mesa, you get good views of Casa Rinconada.
While we would not say that the hike was full of wildflowers, keep your eyes open, as some nice ones are along the trail, such as this paintbrush.
paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)
Also for the sharp-eyed, you might see lizards like this one. Or, our friend, Kathy saw a horned lizard a little later on the hike. Unfortunately, it did not hang around for a photo.
The views from up on the mesa are quite nice.
View north
hole with a pile of debris around it
Somebody cleaned out a nice home here next to the trail.

1.79 mi from the trailhead, you come to a junction (GPS TKJCT). Continue 0.03 mi to Tsin Kletsin (GPS TSINKLETSN).

Once you get to the Tsin Kletsin, notice the quality masonry techniques that the Anasazi used when building.

From here, you can return the way you came, or, backtrack to the trail junction and head WNW on the trail. This route is what we took, and you get great scenery at the cost of a slightly longer return route.

Anasazi wall at Tsin Kletsin
Diana Northup and Kathy Beck
From here, the trail slopes slightly away from Tsin Kletsin, until you come to this point on the mesa edge. The trail then begins to descend more. Kathy Beck and Diana are taking a short rest break before beginning the descent.
Here, you can see the trail in the valley below. In just a few minutes, you will be there.
trail in valley between mesas
Kathy Beck and Jurg Bolli on a bench on the Tsin Kletsin trail
As you descend, you have flat portions of trails on benches, such as this one that Kathy and Jurg are hiking on.
Keep your eyes peeled for interesting things along the trail. We noticed this rock with fossils. Remember that removing anything from the park is illegal.
rock with fossils
Diana on the trail in the valley bottom
Once you are in the valley bottom, the trail becomes flat. The valley walls have interesting patterns on them.
As we were walking down the trail, we came across this interesting site. Upon further investigation, we noticed that bees were coming and going from small tubes made of mud. Recently, they had had 1.36 in of rain in 36 hours, and apparently this makes for favorable conditions for these bees. For more information, see the related LookSharp entry.
lots of bee burrows in the trail
tenebrionid beetle
As we approached Casa Rinconada, we saw this tenebrionid beetle walking along the trail.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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