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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.

Lincoln State Monument

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Shari Kelley

Lincoln State Monument encompasses most of the community of Lincoln, New Mexico and commemorates the lives of many of the key players in the Lincoln County War (1878-1881). Lincoln, which is located in south-central New Mexico, can be access via U.S. Highway 380. The community was originally named La Placita del Rio Bonito (village of the pretty river); the stream that runs along the north side of the village is called the Rio Bonito. The legislature of the territory of New Mexico, encouraged by local citizenry, renamed the village Lincoln in 1869, in honor of President Lincoln, who was assassinated 4 years earlier.

The main visitor’s center for the monument is located near the east end of town on the north side of the highway. The Lincoln County Courthouse Museum, which highlights the escapades and legal troubles of William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid), is the other main attraction associated with the monument. The courthouse is on the west end of town on the south side of the highway. Admission tickets ($5 for adults, children under 16 free) may be purchased at the visitor’s center or at the courthouse. Other buildings that can be visited as part of the tour include the Montaño store, the San Juan mission, the torreon, the post office and Turnstall Museum, and Dr. Wood’s home.

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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]. 

El Vado Lake State Park

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El Vado (“the ford”) Lake lies upstream of a place along the Rio Chama in north central New Mexico where a resistant sandstone ledge in the upper part of the Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone crosses the river. The narrow canyon through this sandstone ledge facilitated passage across the Rio Chama prior to construction of El Vado dam. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District completed the construction of El Vado dam in 1935 to store irrigation water in order to honor Native American water rights of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos. The dam was updated in 1953-1954 and the outlets were modified in 1965-1966 to accommodate increased flows associated with San Juan-Chama Project.

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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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San Ysidro Area

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Adam Read

A spectacular, eroded anticline and syncline pair lies between the Ojito Wilderness and the village of San Ysidro in north-central New Mexico. The San Ysidro area lies near the intersection of four significant geologic features, including the mildly deformed Colorado Plateau to the west, the Laramide-age (75 to 55 million years old) Sierra Nacimiento uplift to the north, and the late Oligocene to Miocene Rio Grande rift to east. The northeast-trending Jemez lineament, characterized by young volcanism, cuts across all three geologic provinces. The <15 million year old Jemez volcanic field is visible to the northeast, the 2 to 3 million year old Puerco Necks, including Cabezon Peak, are located just to the west, and the 1.5 to 3.3 million year old Mount Taylor volcano can be seen on the skyline to the west.

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Mount Taylor Volcanic Field

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Bonnie Frey

Mount Taylor volcano, a prominent landmark that can be seen on the skyline west of Albuquerque, is located about 15 miles northwest of the town of Grants, New Mexico. Mount Taylor Peak, at an elevation of 11,301 feet, stands approximately one mile above the Rio San Jose 12 miles to the south. Mount Taylor volcano is part of a larger, northeast-trending volcanic field that includes Mesa Chivato, a broad plateau located northeast of the cone, and Grants Ridge, located southwest of the cone. Basalt that caps Mesa Chivato and other mesas surrounding Mount Taylor makes up about 80% of the volume of the volcanic field. The Mount Taylor volcanic field lies on the southern flank of the San Juan Basin on the Colorado Plateau and straddles the extensional transition zone between the Colorado Plateau and the Rio Grande rift. The Mount Taylor volcanic field is considered to be part of the Jemez Lineament, a zone of young (< 5 million years old) volcanism aligned along an ancient suture in the 1.7 to 1.6 billion year old Proterozoic basement.

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Percha Dam State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Percha Dam and Caballo Lake State Parks, located south of the town of Truth or Consequences, offer striking views of the Caballo Mountains and Red Hills, prominent uplifts in the southern Rio Grande rift. The Percha and Caballo dams were built for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande Project in 1918 and 1936–38, respectively. Percha Dam, although only 18.5 feet tall, diverts water into the Rincon Valley, irrigating farmland where much of New Mexico’s famous green chile is grown, along with many other crops. Two miles upstream, the 96-foot-tall and 4,590-feet-wide earth-fill Caballo Dam stores water released from hydroelectric- power generation at Elephant Butte Dam and regulates delivery of that water to downstream users during irrigation season.

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Lake Valley

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Lake Valley was a silver-manganese mining district during the late 19th century. Silver was discovered in 1876, and the area was extensively mined until the silver crash in 1893. The Lake Valley district includes the famed Bridal Chamber, which was found in 1881. The Bridal Chamber was among the richest silver deposits ever mined. The spectacular Bridal Chamber ore body composed of silver chlorides and silver bromides was nearly two hundred feet long and 25 feet thick. Chlorargyrite (cerargyrite; AgCl), the main high-grade ore taken from the Bridal Chamber, was mined out by the late 1880s. Manganese minerals, mainly manganite and pyrolusite, were mined in the Lake Valley district during and after World War II. No significant mining activity has occurred in the area since 1959.

Apache Hill, located about 1.5 miles north of the ghost town of Lake Valley on the east side of New Mexico Highway 27, is one of the best fossil collecting sites in southern New Mexico. The fossils are in the Mississippian Lake Valley Limestone. Good outcrops are located just below the top of the hill. Intact fossils, including brachipods, bryozoans, crinoid plates and calyxes, and horn corals, weather out of the shaly limestone in this particular area. Other fossils that can be found include gastropods, pelecypods, cephalopods, and trilobites.

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Elephant Butte Lake State Park

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Colin Cikowski

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is located approximately 5 miles north of the town of Truth or Consequences. Elephant Butte Reservoir is on the Rio Grande in south-central New Mexico east of Interstate 25 between Socorro and Las Cruces. The 301-feet high and 1,674-feet long concrete dam across the Rio Grande that created Elephant Butte Reservoir is the largest dam in the state of New Mexico. Elephant Butte Reservoir was the largest man-made reservoir in the world when the dam was completed in 1916. The dam is considered a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, primarily because the construction of this dam marked the first civil engineering project designed for international distribution of water.

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