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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.

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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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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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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Santa Rosa Lake State Park

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Santa Rosa, "the city of natural lakes", lies in the semiarid, upper Pecos River valley in Guadalupe County where numerous natural artesian-spring lakes abound. Blue Hole, one of these lakes located within the city limits, is well known for its crystal-clear water and attracts scuba divers. However, the largest lake in the area is man made—Santa Rosa Lake, located about seven miles north of the city on the Pecos River. The dam was completed in 1981 at a cost of $43 million for conservation of irrigation water and flood and sedimentation control. The name of the dam was changed from Los Esteros (Spanish for pond or estuary) in 1980 when the state park was authorized.

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Ute Lake State Park

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L. Greer Price

Ute Lake State Park was established in 1964 at a cost of approximately $5 million and was named after Ute Creek, one of the tributaries of the Canadian River that is impounded by a dam. The small town of Logan is on the east side of the lake, and the lake extends upstream in both the Ute and Canadian Rivers. It is 25 miles northeast of Tucumcari on US–54, NM–39, and NM–540 and is approximately 20 miles west of the Texas–New Mexico state line. Most of the land surrounding Ute Lake is private. All the water is open to the public. The park is in the Pecos Valley section of the Great Plains physiographic province. It lies on the north edge of the Llano Estacado or “staked plains.”

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Leasburg Dam State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Leasburg Dam State Park is adjacent to Fort Selden State Monument 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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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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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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Conchas Lake State Park

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L. Greer Price

Conchas Lake State Park was established in 1955 and named after the Conchas River, one of the tributaries of the Canadian River. It is 24 mi north of Newkirk and 31 mi northwest of Tucumcari on NM–104 and NM–129. Conchas is Spanish for shells and was applied to a group of Indians living in the area when Spanish explorers arrived in the 17th century. The word conchas may be a corrupted name that is confused with the Spanish word conchos, a term also used to describe the Native American tribes in northern New Mexico.

The dam that formed Conchas Lake was the 17th dam in the country built by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. One of the state’s oldest dams, it was completed in 1939 to control floods, store water for irrigation and local supplies, and assist in local economic recovery from the Depression.

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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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