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Geologic Tour of New Mexico — Landmarks & Other Features

The wide-open landscape of New Mexico makes it possible to see landmarks from great distances. Some of the more geologically interesting landmarks, scenic areas, and historical sites — that are not otherwise set aside as parks, monuments, or refuges — are described in detailed virtual tours.

Use criteria in the form below to search by 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.





   
There are currently 22 tours:

Angel Peak National Recreation Area

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Richard Kelley

Angel Peak, a 7000-foot pinnacle capped by sandstone, is a prominent landmark near Bloomfield in northwestern New Mexico. It is in the northern part of the San Juan Basin, a large structural depression that formed starting about 75 million years ago during compressional Laramide deformation. The San Juan Basin was surrounded by mountainous uplifts to the north (now buried by the 35 to 20 Ma San Juan volcanic field in southwestern Colorado) and to the east that also formed by Laramide-related compression. The sediments that can be seen at Angel Peak National Recreation area were eroded off of the old Laramide highlands and deposited in the basin 50 to 65 million years ago. More recently, over the course of the last 5 million years (or less), the westward-draining San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado River, has eroded the rocks of the San Juan Basin. Drainages feeding into the San Juan River have carved the scenic landscape we see today.

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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

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Kirt Kempter

The country in northwestern New Mexico between Cuba and Farmington is a land of contrast. Flat grassy plains are cut by valleys that expose the multi-colored moonscapes that we call badlands. The largest area of badlands in the region that is readily accessible to the public is the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, popularly known as the Bisti Badlands. The badlands are generally exposed in a series of east to west-trending valleys formed by the tributaries that feed to the south to the north-flowing Chaco River.

The many fossils preserved in this region make this one of the best places on Earth to study the fascinating story of the end of the age of dinosaurs and the beginning of the age of mammals. These fossils will not be obvious to casual visitors, but visitors will be instantly struck by the spectacular scenery of this area, which has been featured in books, magazines, calendars, and websites.

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Cabezon Peak and the Rio Puerco Necks

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Douglas Bland

Cabezon Peak is one of the best-known and most visible landmarks in northwest New Mexico. This giant volcanic plug is visible for tens of miles in all directions, and as far away as Placitas. Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish, and it is aptly named. It is the largest of several dozen widely scattered rocky monoliths, called the Rio Puerco necks. Rising above the Rio Puerco valley floor, they are some of the best-preserved examples of volcanic necks in the world. The craggy black peaks stand in sharp contrast to the sparsely vegetated, buff-colored lowlands from which they emerge. Mt. Taylor looms majestically to the southwest, Mesa Prieta borders the valley to the east, and the Jemez Mountains are visible to the north. This starkly beautiful landscape is unique in New Mexico. At an elevation of 7,786 ft, Cabezon Peak towers more than 1,100 ft above its base, and 2,000 ft above the Rio Puerco nearby.

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Carrizozo Malpais

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LANDSAT

The Carrizozo Malpais are one of the youngest volcanic features in the state of New Mexico. The Malpais, which are the 75 km-long black feature in the satellite image, are basaltic lava flows, such as are being erupted today in Hawaii. State highway 380 traverses the Carrizozo Malpais, and this road provides good access to people who want to view, or visit the lava flows. The Valley of Fires Recreation Area is located on the Carrizozo Malpais.

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Cerro Pedernal

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Shari Kelley

Cerro Pedernal, one of the most recognized landmarks in north-central New Mexico, is located in the northern Jemez Mountains . Cerro Pedernal lies in the transition zone between the Colorado Plateau and the Rio Grande rift. Typical, relatively flat-lying, Colorado Plateau Mesozoic stratigraphy is exposed at the base of the mountain, while younger Cenozoic basin fill sediments underlie the shoulders of the peak. The andesite and basalt flows capping Cerro Pedernal, which give the mountain its distinctive flat top, were erupted from the northern Jemez volcanic field about 8 million years ago. The lava flows and underlying rocks on Cerro Pedernal and on mesas to the southeast have since been faulted and down-dropped to the southeast by as much as 1870 feet (570 m) during Rio Grande rift extension in the last 8 million years.

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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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Church Canyon, Jemez Mountains

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Shari Kelley

Spectacular exposures of Permian Yeso Group overlain by tilted and faulted late Oligocene to Pleistocene sedimentary and volcanic rocks are preserved at the head of Church Canyon to the east of Jemez Springs in Cañon de San Diego in the southwestern Jemez Mountains. This area is on private land owned by the Catholic Church; therefore, permission must be obtained from the church offices in Jemez Springs before visiting these outcrops.

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Cookes Peak

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The craggy gray granodiorite spire of Cookes Peak, the highest point in the Cookes Range at 8,404 feet, is a prominent landmark in southwestern New Mexico. Cookes Spring on the southeast side of the range is one of just a few perennial springs in this part of New Mexico; consequently, this peak was an important marker of water for Native American, Spanish, and American travelers through the region during the 19th century. The peak was named for Captain Phillip St. George Cooke, who led the Mormon Battalion through southern New Mexico during the winter of 1846 while scouting an overland wagon route for the U.S. Army. Later, a Pony Express mail station was established near the spring. Fort Cummings was built nearby in 1863 to protect travelers from Apache attacks; the fort was manned by the U.S. Army off and on until Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Ruins of the Cookes Spring Station of the Butterfield Trail and Fort Cummings are located about a mile south of the present-day Hyatt Ranch.

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Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

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Peter A. Scholle

The 64-mile stretch of narrow gauge railroad track between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico was originally built in 1880 as part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. This rail line provided much-needed transportation and freight service between Denver and mining camps in Silverton during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When the Federal Government discontinued the use of the silver and gold standard to back American currency, the "Silver Panic" in 1893 caused the closure of many of the mines in the Silverton area. The railroad continued to operate with revenues from transportation of livestock, timber, and farm produce. The oil and gas industry in the Four Corners region also utilized the railroad. Demand for rail transportation in this region waned by the mid-twentieth century. Passenger service on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad ended in 1951 and freight service ended in 1968. Railroad enthusiasts and legislative bodies in New Mexico and Colorado recognized the scenic splendor of the train route between Chama and Antonito. Through a joint effort, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, complete with coal-powered steam engines carrying tourists in railcars on refurbished narrow gauge tracks, was created in 1970 to preserve this historic and picturesque section of railroad.

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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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Ghost Ranch

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Matt Zimmerer

Ghost Ranch is located approximately 38 miles northwest of the town of Española, New Mexico, just north of U.S. Highway 84, and is run by the Presbyterian Church as a conference center. It has facilities for lodging and camping, as well as paleontology and cultural museums. It lies in the Chama Basin, a broad shallow basin along the eastern margin of the Colorado Plateau in the transition between the Plateau and the Rio Grande rift.

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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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Kilbourne Hole

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Rodrigo Salinas Santander - Wikimedia Commons

Kilbourne Hole in south-central New Mexico is a classic example of a maar crater that formed as a result of the explosive interaction of hot basaltic magma with groundwater during a volcanic eruption. When the steam-saturated eruption column that forms during an explosive event gravitationally collapses, a ring-shaped surge travels radially outward along the ground away from the vent. The stratified, cross-bedded pyroclastic surge deposits around the crater at Kilbourne Hole are spectacular. The surge deposits may have formed as a consequence of a series of steam explosions during the emplacement of the basalt.

Kilbourne Hole is unique because of the remarkable abundance of both crustal and mantle (peridotite/olivine-bearing) xenoliths that are in basalt bombs ejected during the eruption. Xenoliths are inclusions of pre-existing rock derived from country rocks, in this case, pieces of mantle and crust, that were incorporated into the mafic magma as it moved from a depth of about 40 miles (60 km) to the surface.

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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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Monument Rock

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Richard Chamberlin

Monument Rock is located west of Socorro and north of U.S. Highway 60 in the eastern Sawtooth Mountains of Catron County, New Mexico. The area can be reached from Datil by traveling west along Highway 60, 12.3 miles to Forest Road 6A. Turn right on Forest Road 6A and drive north 3.7 miles to the prominent spire of Monument Rock.

The area can also be accessed from Pie Town by driving east along U.S. Highway 60 to Forest Road 316. Turn left onto Forest Road 316 and drive northeast 3.5 miles to Forest Road 6A. Turn left and drive 1.1 miles to Monument Rock.

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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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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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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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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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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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