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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.

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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Ship Rock

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Paul Logsdon

he Ship Rock landform, located in northwestern New Mexico, is the remnant of an explosive volcanic eruption that occurred around 30 million years ago. The main part of the landform is 600 meters high, and 500 meters in diameter. Ship Rock, known as Tse Bitai, or "the winged rock" in Navajo, is a volcanic neck, or the central feeder pipe of larger volcanic landform which has since eroded away. The neck is composed of fractured volcanic rock, or breccia, crosscut by many thin veins of lava. Ship Rock is composed of an unusual, highly potassic magma composition called a "minette", thought to form by very small degrees of melting of the earth's mantle. Ship Rock was probably 750 to 1000 meters below the land surface at the time it was formed, and has since gained its prominent form due to erosion of surrounding rocks.

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park

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U.S. National Park Service

Visitors to Chaco Canyon, having crossed corrugated expanses of the San Juan Basin to get there, wonder that such a striking canyon exists at all in a landscape otherwise dominated by rolling sand-covered uplands, small mesas, bluffs, and badland-bordered shallow valleys. The canyon’s size (500 feet deep, 2,100 feet wide, 15 miles long), elevation (6,100 feet), orientation (northwest), and noticeable differences in layered rock sequences and landforms on either side arouse further curiosity. How could the current tiny ephemeral stream cut such a canyon unless past climate was different from present semiarid conditions? Moreover, how could prehistoric peoples, let alone park visitors and personnel, live in this remote area with few obvious resources?

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

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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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]. 

Zuni-Bandera Volcanic Field

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The Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, in northwest New Mexico, has had many episodes of basaltic eruptions over the last million years. The youngest lava flow in the field is the McCartys flow, which is only 3000 years old, one of the youngest volcanic features in the 48 contiguous United States! The Zuni-Bandera volcanic field has produced many basaltic lava flows, some with a-a characteristics, and some that are paheohoe. There are also a number of well-preserved cinder cones that can be visited, as well as many lava tubes, some of which contain perennial ice. The Zuni-Bandera volcanic field is an excellent site for studying physical volcanology of basaltic magmatic systems.

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Rock Hound State Park and Spring Canyon Recreation Area

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Robert Colburn

Rockhound State Park lies in the Little Florida Mountains southeast of Deming, New Mexico. It was established in 1966 as the first park in the United States that allowed collecting of rocks and minerals for personal use. Each visitor is allowed to collect as much as 15 lb of rocks and minerals from the 1,100-acre park; mineral dealers are not allowed to collect for sale. Rockhound State Park actually consists of two separate units, the main park and Spring Canyon Recreation Area. Spring Canyon lies in the northern Florida Mountains, south of the main park, and is open for day use only from Easter through November.

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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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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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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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