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Geologic Tour of New Mexico — Physiographic Provinces

Tour site types: State Parks  Federal Parks  Other Features
(Click map to hide/show the physiographic province overlay.)

The varied landscape of New Mexico is divided in six distinct physiographic provinces, each with characteristic landforms and a unique geologic history. We invite you to investigate points of geologic interest located in each province.

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.





   

Read more about each physiographic province:

The selection of tours shown below are listed in random order.

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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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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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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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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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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White Sands National Park

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America's newest national park (as of December 2019), White Sands is famous for its extensive sea of white gypsum dunes—indeed, it is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Located in the southern Tularosa Basin, the park was established as a national monument in 1933 and encompasses nearly 176,000 acres (275 square miles, including 115 square miles of gypsum sand dunes). The park not only contains the large dune field but also a saline mudflat called Alkali Flat, a smaller ephemeral salt lake (or playa) named Lake Lucero, parts of the gypsum-dust plains east of the dune field, and alluvial fans from the surrounding mountains. The dune field and Alkali Flat extend more than 12 miles to the north of the park onto the White Sands Missile Range.

Also see the White Sands National Park sample chapter from our popular field guide: The Geology of Southern New Mexico's Parks Monuments and Public Lands.

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Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument

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Shari Kelley

Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument is a large, diverse and recently established park. It has four separate geographic areas: the Organ Mountains, the Doña Ana Mountains, the Potrillo Mountains, and the “Desert Peaks." This tour deals only with the Organ Mountains. The geology of the Doña Mountains area is briefly discussed in the tour of Fort Selden–Leasburg Dam. The Potrillo Mountains include the remote Potrillo volcanic field and are covered in the Kilbourne Hole tour. The "Desert Peaks" includes the Robledo Mountains and Sierra de las Uvas. The Robledo region is described in the tour of the "Prehistoric Trackways National Monument" (a separate, but contiguous national monument).

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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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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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Capulin Volcano National Monument

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U.S. National Park Service

This small park, established in 1916 by presidential proclamation, offers a close-up view of one of the most perfectly preserved cinder cones in North America. The road to the summit provides access to the summit crater, and if you have ever wanted to walk into a volcano, Capulin Mountain is one of the few places you can do so. A 0.2-mile-long trail from the summit parking lot descends to the vent at the bottom of the crater. The view from the crater rim encompasses all of northeastern New Mexico as well as parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

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