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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.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

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Richard Kelley

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, at the mouth of Dog Canyon on the western escarpment of the Sacramento Mountains, opened in 1980, but the area has attracted visitors for several thousands of years. The 180-acre state park has a flowing stream and forms an oasis on the edge of the harsh desert of the Tularosa (Spanish, "reddish willows") Valley. The park is named for Oliver Lee (1865-1941), a prominent rancher and state legislator who settled near the mouth of Dog Canyon in the late 1880s. Lee was active in developing water-control projects in the area. Oliver Lee's ranch is one of the many exhibits at the state park. The Visitor's Center houses displays of the geologic and cultural history of the canyon area. Approximately 30,000 people enjoy camping, hiking, and picnicking in the park each year. An interpretative trail along lower Dog Canyon allows visitors a glimpse of vegetation and wildlife in the oasis as well as several cultural sites. The Dog Canyon Trail starts at an elevation of about 4,500 ft in the state park and climbs the steep escarpment of the Sacramento Mountains to the Eyebrow Trail to Joplin Ridge at an elevation of 7,753 ft, for a total one-way distance of about six miles.

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Prehistoric Trackways National Monument

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Douglas Bland

The Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is located in the Robledo Mountains just northwest of Las Cruces in Dona Ana County, south-central New Mexico. It contains rocks of Permian age, from the Late Paleozoic Era. They are composed of sediments deposited about 280 million years ago, before the age of the dinosaurs. These rocks contain major deposits of fossilized footprints made by numerous amphibians, reptiles, insects, and crustaceans, as well as plants and petrified wood. Some scientists have called these features the most scientifically significant Permian tracksites in the world. These fossils provide important information about animal behavior in this ancient tropical environment on the edge of the supercontinent Pangea.

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Tsiping

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Shari Kelley

Tsiping, also called Tsi’pin or Tsi’pinouinge, is a remarkable pueblo ruin located on Pueblo Mesa near the village of Cañones in the northern Jemez Mountains. Although the site is on Santa Fe National Forest land, the site is off limits unless you have a permit. Permits can be obtained from the Coyote Ranger Station.

Tsi’pinouinge means “village of the flaking stone”, a reference to the village’s proximity to lithic-source quarries in the Pedernal Chert on Cerro Pedernal. Based on tree-ring measurements and ceramic styles, Tsiping was occupied between 1200 AD and 1325 AD, during the Classic Period. Tsiping was the northernmost and largest of the Classic Period pueblos. The village had somewhere between 335 to 400 ground floor rooms, sixteen kivas, and a central plaza. Cavate dwellings are located on the southeastern side of the mesa.

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Caballo Lake State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Caballo Lake State Park is located approximately 14 miles south of the town of Truth or Consequences. Caballo Reservoir is on the Rio Grande in south-central New Mexico east of Interstate 25 between Socorro and Las Cruces.

Camping, picnicing, and boating facilities are available at this state park. Caballo Lake State Park is the third largest state park in New Mexico. This park is generally quiet compared to Elephant Butte State Park to the north.

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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]. 

Fort Union National Monument

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Adam S. Read

Fort Union was established in 1851 to provide a much-needed military presence to travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. The trail had been active since 1821, when much of what is now New Mexico became U.S. territory in 1848, at the end of the Mexican War. Fort Union’s spectacular location on the western edge of the Great Plains was a strategic one, sited as it was near the junction of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail with the Cimarron Cutoff. Between 1851 and 1891 Fort Union contained the largest American military presence in the Southwest; over 1,600 troops were stationed there in 1861. In 1878 the railroad came to New Mexico over Raton Pass, and by 1891 Fort Union had been abandoned. Visitors to the national monument can see some impressive historic ruins, including the foundations and adobe walls of many of the original buildings, and remnants of the deeply-rutted Santa Fe Trail.

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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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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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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is in the Mogollon Mountains approximately 44 miles north of Silver City, New Mexico. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was established in 1907 and is one of the nation’s oldest monuments. The monument lies within the Mogollon-Datil volcanic field; volcanic eruptions from this field covered 40,000 km2 of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona with lava and ash flow tuffs 40 to 24 million years ago.

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