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Geologic Tour of New Mexico

Tour site types: State Parks  Federal Parks  Other Features

These virtual geologic tours explore the high mountains of north-central New Mexico, the rugged mountains of southern New Mexico, and the wide open spaces of the eastern and northwestern parts of our great state.

Also check out our popular book series Geology of New Mexico's Parks, Monuments, and Public Lands and Scenic Trips to the Geologic Past.

Use criteria in the form below to search by site type, region, physiographic province, keyword, or county. Combining search criteria may provide few or no results. You can also explore the map and click on sites directly.





 
The selection of tours shown below are listed in random order.

City of Rocks State Park

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Matt Zimmerer

City of Rocks State Park is truly a geologic monument; it is formed by large sculptured rock columns (pinnacles) or boulders rising as high as 40 ft and separated by paths or lanes resembling city streets. About 34.9 million years ago a large volcano erupted, forming the rocks in an instant (geologically speaking); then erosion over millions of years slowly formed the sculptured columns that now provide a natural playground for children and adults alike. City of Rocks State Park was established in May 1952 to preserve this geologic wonder.

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Chino (Santa Rita) Mine

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Maureen Wilks

The Chino mine, an open-pit porphyry copper mine, is 15 miles east of Silver City near the village of Hanover in southwestern New Mexico). An overlook of the pit, complete with educational displays, is located on the south side of New Mexico Highway 152 east of Hanover. The excavation is also known as the Santa Rita Mine or Santa Rita del Cobre, named for the former village of Santa Rita, which was removed in the 1950s as mining operations in the area expanded. Concern has been expressed about the stability of the famed landmark on the southeast side of the mine, the spire known as the Kneeling Nun, as the modern-day mining operation moves to the southeast. The Chino mine is the largest porphyry copper deposit in New Mexico. The pit is currently ~1.75 miles across and 1,350 feet deep. The Apaches were the first to notice native copper lying on the ground in a valley northwest of Santa Rita Mountain. The open-pit mining operation began in 1910. The mine became part of Freeport-McMoRan in 2007.

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Fort Selden State Monument

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Peter A. Scholle

Fort Selden State Monument is adjacent to Leasburg Dam State Park on NM–157 (Fort Selden Road) at the Radium Springs exit on I–25, north of Las Cruces. It is an area rich in both geologic and human history. The location was an ancient Indian campground and a crossing point for Spanish caravans headed across the Jornada del Muerto. Living-history demonstrations of 19th century military life at Fort Selden highlight many weekends during the summer. Wildlife viewing, especially bird watching, is popular at the state park. A bird list is available from the park office. In the winter months many species of ducks, teals, snow geese, cranes, herons, egrets, swans, and pelicans migrate through the southern Rio Grande valley and can be seen at the state park. Numerous raptors, including owls, turkey vultures, eagles, and hawks, can be seen hunting in the area. Small mammals common to the park include rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rodents, coyotes, and foxes.

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Pecos National Historical Park

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U.S. National Park Service

Pecos National Historical Park lies in the extreme western portion of San Miguel County, in the broad valley of the Pecos River where the river leaves its deep canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The timeless cycles of geologic history are on display in the ancient and modern river deposits in the park. The spectacular cliffs of sedimentary rocks on Glorieta Mesa to the south and the rugged mountains to the north provide a beautiful geologic setting for the ruins and contain rocks that record shifting shorelines and the birth and erosion of mountains.

The site is of enormous cultural and historical significance. The pueblo here was occupied at least as early as 1450. The Coronado Expedition passed through here in 1541 en route to the Great Plains. Spanish missionaries followed soon thereafter. In 1621 the Franciscans built the adobe church whose ruins tower over the park today. In 1680 the Pueblo Revolt put an end to the efforts of the church throughout northern New Mexico; the priest at Pecos was killed and the church laid waste. The site was occupied by the Pecos Indians until 1838.

We haven't created a detailed geologic tour for this site yet [view external website]. 

Carrizozo Malpais

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LANDSAT

The Carrizozo Malpais are one of the youngest volcanic features in the state of New Mexico. The Malpais, which are the 75 km-long black feature in the satellite image, are basaltic lava flows, such as are being erupted today in Hawaii. State highway 380 traverses the Carrizozo Malpais, and this road provides good access to people who want to view, or visit the lava flows. The Valley of Fires Recreation Area is located on the Carrizozo Malpais.

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Ghost Ranch

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Matt Zimmerer

Ghost Ranch is located approximately 38 miles northwest of the town of Española, New Mexico, just north of U.S. Highway 84, and is run by the Presbyterian Church as a conference center. It has facilities for lodging and camping, as well as paleontology and cultural museums. It lies in the Chama Basin, a broad shallow basin along the eastern margin of the Colorado Plateau in the transition between the Plateau and the Rio Grande rift.

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Cabezon Peak and the Rio Puerco Necks

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Douglas Bland

Cabezon Peak is one of the best-known and most visible landmarks in northwest New Mexico. This giant volcanic plug is visible for tens of miles in all directions, and as far away as Placitas. Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish, and it is aptly named. It is the largest of several dozen widely scattered rocky monoliths, called the Rio Puerco necks. Rising above the Rio Puerco valley floor, they are some of the best-preserved examples of volcanic necks in the world. The craggy black peaks stand in sharp contrast to the sparsely vegetated, buff-colored lowlands from which they emerge. Mt. Taylor looms majestically to the southwest, Mesa Prieta borders the valley to the east, and the Jemez Mountains are visible to the north. This starkly beautiful landscape is unique in New Mexico. At an elevation of 7,786 ft, Cabezon Peak towers more than 1,100 ft above its base, and 2,000 ft above the Rio Puerco nearby.

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Cimarron Canyon State Park

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Cimarron is Spanish for wild and untamed and originally was used in New Mexico to refer to the wild bighorn sheep, and later to the wild horses and cattle that once roamed throughout the north-central mountains (Pearce, 1965). Today, the sparsely populated Cimarron country in western Colfax County can still be described as wild and untamed with its rugged, timbered mountains (the Cimarron Range), towering cliffs, and the previously unpredictable Cimarron River. The Cimarron River has been tamed somewhat by the Eagle Nest Dam, which controls flooding in the canyon.

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Bluewater Lake State Park

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Bluewater Lake State Park lies at an elevation of 7,400 ft in Las Tuces Valley near the Continental Divide in the Zuni Mountains. The park is between Gallup and Grants along I–40, 7 mi southwest of Prewitt via NM-412. A forest of cottonwoods, piñon, and juniper surrounds the lake. The Navajos knew the area as “large cottonwood trees where water flows out” (Julyan, 1996). It became a state park in 1955. Bluewater and Cottonwood (Azul) Creeks feed the lake. The lake itself is formed by an arched dam 90 ft high and 500 ft long (Robinson, 1994) that impounds 38,500 acre-ft of water. The last time water spilled over the dam was in 1941. The dam is convex in the upstream direction for increased strength, and it is at the mouth of Bluewater Creek in a steep-walled canyon. An overlook at the end of the road through the park facilities offers an excellent view of the dam and canyon. A primitive hiking trail leads down into the canyon below the dam.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish maintains a permanent pool of water for fish and periodically stocks the lake with rainbow trout and channel catfish. Indeed, the lake is blue, as the name implies. It is well known to ice-fishermen during the winter. Power and sail boating, hiking, water skiing, wind surfing, and swimming are possible recreational activities in addition to fishing, camping, picnicking. Care should be taken driving in wet weather along the north side of the lake because of muddy conditions. Not all 25 mi of shoreline belong to the state park; some land surrounding the lake belongs to private individuals, Indian tribes, and U.S. National Forest. All water, however, is open to the public.

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Oasis State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Oasis State Park lies 18 miles southwest of Clovis and 7 miles north of Portales via US–60 and NM–467. It was established in 1961 to preserve the natural beauty of a true oasis in the sandy desert of the Llano Estacado or “staked plains” of the Great Plains physiographic province. The surrounding area is flat, treeless, featureless, and relatively dry. The summers are hot, the winters are cold, the wind seems to blow constantly. In contrast, the park offers shade trees and a small lake, as well as conveniences such as water, showers, electric hookups, and dump stations expected of picnic areas and modern campgrounds. Many of the facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. In addition to picnicking and camping, fishing, hiking, and bird watching are popular activities. The pond is stocked with catfish and trout. Trails weave up and down and around the sand dunes; watch carefully for lizards, snakes, and other wildlife that make the sand their home! A ballfield lies near the center of the park and there is a new visitor’s center. The Blackwater Draw Museum is located east of Oasis State Park on US-70, and the Blackwater Draw Archaeological Site is north of the state park.

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