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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.

El Malpais National Monument

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U.S. National Park Service

El Malpais National Monument is part of the Zuni–Bandera volcanic field in west-central New Mexico. It is one of the best places in the lower forty-eight United States to view young, Hawaiian-style volcanic deposits. There are over one hundred individual volcanoes in this volcanic field, as well as the many associated lava flows, cinder cones, shield volcanoes, and lava tubes. The young age of the volcanism (the youngest eruption occurred just 3,000–4,000 years ago) along with the dry local climate means that the rocks and their volcanic features are beautifully preserved.

The name El Malpais comes from early Spanish explorers and translates literally to “the bad country,” so named because of the extreme roughness of the lava flow surfaces. The Zuni–Bandera volcanic field was recognized as an important geological feature as early as the 1930s, when the area was first proposed as a national monument. However, El Malpais National Monument and the associated El Malpais National Conservation Area weren’t formally established until 1987.

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

Coronado State Monument

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Coronado State Monument is about 15 miles north of Albuquerque in Bernallio and is named after Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer who was in New Mexico in the mid-16th century. Coronado supposedly wintered at Kuana Pueblo, the large pueblo preserved at the state monument, between late 1540 and early 1541; however, recent excavations indicate that the Spaniards camped nearby at Santiago Pueblo, located about 2 miles to the southwest of Coronado State Monument. Nonetheless, the preserved pueblo is impressive and the kivas at Kuana Pueblo are decorated with remarkable murals that can be viewed at the Visitor's Center.

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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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Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park was established in 1971 to preserve and display the wide variety of animals, plants, and natural environments found in the Chihuahuan Desert. Located north of Carlsbad on US–285, Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park offers a variety of outdoor and indoor exhibits depicting the natural, geologic, archaeological, historical, and mineral wealth of the area.

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is on the southeast side of the Valles and Toledo calderas, large collapse features that formed during voluminous eruptions in the Jemez Mountain volcanic field 1.61 and 1.25 million years ago. Tent Rocks encompasses a fascinating landscape in the southeastern Jemez Mountains. Kasha-Katuwe means 'white cliffs' in Keresan, the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti. Delicately layered sand, gravel, volcanic ash, and tuff of the Peralta Tuff Member of the Bearhead Rhyolite and sand and gravel of the Cochiti Formation, which are older units (2 to 6 Ma) in the Jemez Mountain volcanic field, have been erodedinto fragile to robust spires with balanced rocks perched on top. The hoodoos, erosional cones, and pedestal rocks that characterize Tent Rocks form as the result of differential erosion.

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Aztec Ruins National Monument

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U.S. National Park Service

Aztec Ruins National Monument was established in 1923 to preserve the remarkable remains of an ancestral Puebloan farming community, including a twelfth-century Chacoan great house. The settlement flourished from A.D. 1050–1150, at which time it was one of the largest Puebloan settlements in the Southwest, strategically situated between Mesa Verde to the north and Chaco Canyon to the south. Culturally it is considered a Chacoan outlier, at the northern terminus of one of the prehistoric roads that emanated from Chaco. Later occupants (in the 1200s) are thought to have had closer ties to Mesa Verde.

One of the earliest written eyewitness accounts of Aztec Ruins was provided by geologist John Newberry in 1859, who reported at that time that the walls stood 25 feet high. Both the ruins and the setting are spectacular, but the park is perhaps best known for the reconstructed Great Kiva, which was excavated in 1921 and reconstructed by Earl Morris in the 1930s. It is the only restored great kiva in the Southwest and is accessible to visitors; stepping inside provides a unique glimpse of what these ceremonial structures might have been like when they were intact. The park is now a World Heritage Site.

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El Morro National Monument

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El Morro, which means "bluff" or "headland" in Spanish, is an imposing cliff made of Middle to Late Jurassic (155 to 165 million years old) Zuni Sandstone capped by Late Cretaceous Dakota (~95 to 96 million years old) sandstone and shale. Travelers, including Native Americans, Spaniards, and citizens of the United States, have carved their symbols, names, messages, and dates of their passage into the soft cross-bedded Zuni Sandstone for centuries.

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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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Manzano Mountains State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Manzano Mountains State Park, established in 1973, is located eighteen miles northwest of the town of Mountainair and is south of the village of Manzano in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains. “Manzano” is Spanish for apple and refers to old apple orchards found in the town of Manzano. The apple trees were planted after 1800 as determined by tree ring growth, although local legends claim that the apple trees were planted in the 17th century by Spanish missionaries traveling to the nearby Indian pueblos. The few remaining trees are probably the oldest apple trees in the United States. There are no apple trees at Manzano Mountains State Park, but Gambel oak, Emory oak, piñon, ponderosa pine, and alligator juniper trees are abundant. The alligator juniper is named for the checkered pattern on the bark of older trees, which resembles an alligator's hide. Nearby, Tajique, Torreon, and 4th of July Canyons in the Manzano Mountains contain some of the largest stands of Rocky Mountain and big-toothed maple trees in the Southwest; spectacular fall colors attract visitors from throughout the area. The Manzano Mountains also play an important role as a raptor flyway during spring and fall migrations. Some species of birds may fly 200 miles in a day and several thousand miles in a season. The park has a field checklist available to visitors who enjoy bird watching.

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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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