Penitente Canyon


After Sunday morning service, we stopped in Monte Vista for lunch at the Mountain View Restaurant. From the outside, the restaurant looks rather generic, but the interior is nicely done in southwestern style. As for the food, between the three of us we had steak, ribs and chicken fingers. The food was great and the portions even better. My rack of ribs was literally hanging off the plate, and it wasn’t a small plate.

Having satiated our hunger for food, we headed north to feed our hunger for new sights.


Just north of Del Norte is a section of the Rio Grande National Forest composed of volcanic tuft. It contains a number of interesting geological formations, the best known of which is Penitente Canyon. The canyon is named for the Penitente Brotherhood which once made it their refuge. They left behind a wall painting of the virgin Mary. At the entrance to the canyon can be found a small petroglyph left by earlier residents of the area.

The path through the floor of the canyon is well worn and easy to follow.

Canyon Trail

Given the canyon’s popularity as an internationally known destination for rock climbing (containing over 300 climbing routes), there are numerous side branches to other interesting features. We did see some climbers while we were here.

Climber on "Bullet the Blue Sky"

But we limited ourselves to much gentle grades, much to Kathryn’s dismay.

This is too easy Dad.....

She was allowed to climb some of the smaller areas, just nothing technical. She seems to doubt my lack of desire for Kathryn pizza on the canyon floor and prefers to believe that she just has a mean father. I can live with that, and more importantly, so can she. Though I’m starting to foresee climbing lessons in her future.

We followed the Blue Sky trail, also known as loop A. After meandering through the canyon, the trail climbs up to where you can see endless miles of blue sky as well as the canyon laid out before you. From above, it is hard to imagine that you’re looking at more than a mass of rocks.

The canyon from above

hmmm... maybe something is down there

At the top, there are also the remains of a well worn wagon trail. It amazes me to think of how many wagons it must have taken to leave these grooves through the stone.

Wagon trail

As in the canyon, there are again numerous trails which branch off from the main loop, without any marking. So care and a decent sense of direction is required to find your way back.

The road to the canyon is a dirt/gravel path, that is in generally good shape and also leads to other areas of interest. One of these is the La Ventana Arch.

La Ventana Arch

This arch is somewhat unique in that it is through volcanic, rather than sedimentary stone.

A closer view

Also to be found along this road is the elephant rocks. Unfortunately, it was raining by this point, so we only drove through rather than allow Kathryn to climb on the now slick rock. Yes, I’m truly a mean father.

Elephant Rocks

Since rain had moved in, we headed back to the Airstream. Tomorrow is a short travel day for us, our next stop being Durango, Colorado.


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One Response

  1. Rich & Maryann Rowley says:

    Glad to see you found Penitente Canyon. Maryann and I love the seclusion and topography in the area. You will find deeper and more dramatic rock canyons as you proceed into Utah, but the beauty and symmetry of the rock formations make this area quite special.

    If you get a chance check out Hovenweep National Monument for unsual cliff dwellings…

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