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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.

Bandelier National Monument

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U.S. National Park Service

Bandelier National Monument, best known for its cultural significance and well-preserved cliff dwellings, also offers visitors a chance to observe the volcanic geology that made the area so well-suited for prehistoric Puebloan civilization. The rock in most of the monument is Bandelier Tuff, a light-colored, soft volcanic rock that formed during two very large, explosive volcanic events that occurred 1.6 and 1.2 million years ago. These two large eruptions, which together produced hundreds of cubic miles of rock, created the thick sheets of white-to-pink volcanic ash and ignimbrite seen in cliffs in many parts of the Jemez Mountains. This rock, composed of pumice, ash, and volcanic crystals, is not very strongly cemented, and, in many places, has a chalky texture. The soft and easily eroded nature of this rock allowed the deep Frijoles Canyon to be incised by Frijoles Creek, and then provided the perfect setting for the prehistoric Puebloan civilization. These people carved cliff dwellings and building blocks for structures from the volcanic rocks. They occupied this idyllic setting until around A.D. 1,100, when climate change or a combination of factors forced them to abandon the dwellings, the remains of which we see today.

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

Permian Reef Complex

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Peter A. Scholle

This is a virtual field trip to the classic Permian reef complex and other geologic features of the Guadalupe Mountains, including those in Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe National Park in Texas. It contains an introduction to the geology of the Permian reef complex plus several roadlogs with diagrams and photographs, as well as an extensive bibliography in order to provide a balanced presentation for a geology student audience.

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Pancho Villa State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico, was established in 1959 “in interest of preservation of the memory of the unique, historical occasion of the last hostile action by foreign troops within the continental United States”. It became the only park in the United States to be named after a foreign invader. The creation of the 60-acre park was a gesture of good will between the United States and Mexico. The town of Columbus has been designated a National Historic Site. Across the street from the park is the privately owned Pancho Villa Museum.

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Gilman Tunnels

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L. Greer Price

The Gilman Tunnels are on NM 485 along the Rio Guadalupe in the southwestern Jemez Mountains, approximately 5 miles northwest of the intersection of NM 4 and NM 485. Two narrow and unusually high tunnels were cut through Precambrian granite in the 1920s to facilitate passage of logging trains through this particularly rugged and constricted section of Guadalupe Canyon, known as the Guadalupe Box. Logs that were harvested in the western Jemez Mountains in the 1920s were taken by narrow-gauge railroad to a sawmill in Bernalillo. The tunnels were enlarged in the 1930s to accommodate logging trucks. Logs were hauled out of the mountains and then loaded on trains at Gilman logging camp, which was established in 1937 about two miles south of the tunnels. The railroad was shut down by flooding along the Jemez and Guadalupe Rivers in 1941. The highway now occupies the old railroad bed. Aside from providing access to the Guadalupe Box itself, NM 485 provides an unparalleled view of the stratigraphy of Guadalupe Canyon.

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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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Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area

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Peter A. Scholle

This recreation area in the Lincoln National Forest has spectacular cliffs and features a year-round spring-fed stream, waterfalls (the largest of which has a 150-foot drop), and many refreshing clear-water wading pools. There are picnic areas and several hiking trails, including T–68 and T–68A that lead to the spring source of the waterfalls. The Apache name for the area was “gostahanagunti,” which means hidden gulch, and the presence of flakes of worked chert, grinding holes (bedrock mortars), and nearby pictographs testify to long-standing Native American use of this wildlife-rich oasis in the desert.

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Morphy Lake State Park

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Morphy Lake State Park offers fishermen, campers, hikers, and other visitors a rustic alpine setting in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Spectacular views are the result of complex geologic processes active since Proterozoic time (1,700 m.y. ago): two major periods of mountain building (called orogenies) and most recently erosion and sedimentation by glaciers and rivers.The state park is 7 miles southwest of Mora and 3 miles northwest of Ledoux in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico. It is the least accessible of the New Mexico state parks.

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Petroglyph National Monument

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Shari Kelley

Petroglyph National Monument is located on Ceja Mesa on the west side of Albuquerque. The monument is best known for the estimated 25,000 rock art images carved into basalt erupted from the approximately 200,000-year-old Albuquerque volcanic field. Using stone chisels and hammer stones, the ancestors of the Puebloan Indians cut most of the petroglyphs into the desert varnish coating the basalt between 1300 and 1680 A.D. A few of the markings are much older, dating back to perhaps 2000 B.C. Spaniards and later generations of Albuquerque inhabitants have produced younger petroglyphs with more modern themes. The monument, created in 1990, includes about 17 miles of petroglyph-covered basalt cliffs and five extinct volcanoes.

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Hyde Memorial State Park

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Thomas Shahan, Wikimedia Commons

Hyde Memorial State Park lies in the southwestern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Santa Fe Range. The north-south trending Sangre de Cristo Mountains are about 225 miles long, extending from near Salida, Colorado, at the north end to just southeast of Santa Fe at the south end (Bauer, 2008). The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are considered to be part of the Southern Rocky Mountain physiographic province. The mountains rise abruptly from the relatively topographically subdued High Plains on the east side. The Rio Grande rift, a northerly-trending zone of continental extension that runs from northern Colorado to west Texas, marks the western boundary of the range. The Santa Fe Range, which is cored by Proterozoic basement rocks, is bound on the north by the Peñasco embayment, on the south by Glorieta Pass, on the west by the Española Basin, and on the east by the Picuris-Pecos Fault just west of the Pecos River. At least four episodes of mountain building are recorded in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Bottomless Lakes State Park

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Bottomless Lakes State Park is located 14 mi southeast of Roswell, on the east edge of the Pecos River valley. The park is 4 mi long, and the loop drive is 9 mi long. The park consists of approximately 1,611 acres and includes eight of nine lakes; the Fin and Feather Club owns Dimmitt Lake, the southernmost lake. Vaqueros (cowboys) who could not find the bottom of the lakes reportedly gave them their name (Young, 1984). They would tie two or three ropes together and drop them into the lakes to try to reach the bottom. The ropes were not long enough, so the vaqueros thought the lakes were bottomless! The greenish-blue color created by algae and other aquatic plants also added to the illusion of great depth.

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