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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.

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]. 

Manzano Mountains State Park

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Peter A. Scholle

Manzano Mountains State Park, established in 1973, is located eighteen miles northwest of the town of Mountainair and is south of the village of Manzano in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains. “Manzano” is Spanish for apple and refers to old apple orchards found in the town of Manzano. The apple trees were planted after 1800 as determined by tree ring growth, although local legends claim that the apple trees were planted in the 17th century by Spanish missionaries traveling to the nearby Indian pueblos. The few remaining trees are probably the oldest apple trees in the United States. There are no apple trees at Manzano Mountains State Park, but Gambel oak, Emory oak, piñon, ponderosa pine, and alligator juniper trees are abundant. The alligator juniper is named for the checkered pattern on the bark of older trees, which resembles an alligator's hide. Nearby, Tajique, Torreon, and 4th of July Canyons in the Manzano Mountains contain some of the largest stands of Rocky Mountain and big-toothed maple trees in the Southwest; spectacular fall colors attract visitors from throughout the area. The Manzano Mountains also play an important role as a raptor flyway during spring and fall migrations. Some species of birds may fly 200 miles in a day and several thousand miles in a season. The park has a field checklist available to visitors who enjoy bird watching.

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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge

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Peter A. Scholle

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located in central New Mexico about 15 miles north of Socorro. The refuge spans the Rio Grande valley from the Sierra Ladrones on the west to the Los Pinos Mountains on the east, an area of approximately 30 miles by 15 miles, encompassing 230,000 acres. The area was designated a Spanish land grant, Sevilleta de la Joya, in 1819. The land grant was sold in 1928 to Socorro County and then, in 1936, to General Thomas D. Campbell, under whom it became a ranch for sheep and cattle. The Campbell Family Foundation donated the land to the Nature Conservancy in 1973, which then passed it on to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to become a national wildlife refuge dedicated to preservation and enhancement of the integrity and natural character of the land. The transfer stipulated that the land should undergo natural processes of succession, including floods and fires, without human interference. Thus, most of the refuge has very limited public access, but the Mesa View Trail west of the Visitor Center is open for hiking at least five days per week.

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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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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]. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

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Peter A. Scholle

The Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge covers about 38 square miles in central Chaves County, east and northeast of Roswell. Situated on the Pecos River where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Great Plains, the refuge supports an amazing diversity of flora and fauna, including numerous migratory waterfowl in the winter months. Established in 1937, the refuge includes the new Joseph R. Skeen Visitor Center, which sits on the Orchard Park terrace overlooking floodplain wetlands and the redbed escarpment on the eastern skyline.

Beginning at the Visitor Center are a bike trail, a short walking trail, and an 8-mile auto-tour loop. The loop traverses a Pecos Valley terrace overlooking the floodplain for the first 4 miles. The remainder explores floodplain environments, from an abandoned Pecos River meander oxbow lake to the low-lying wetlands. The more adventuresome visitors can explore the refuge’s north tract, which includes the Salt Creek Wilderness. Here, one can hike to the mouth of Salt Creek at the Pecos River and continue onto some of the refuge’s many sinkholes, including the scenic Ink Pot.

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

Sugarite Canyon State Park

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William Muehlberger

Sugarite Canyon State Park, once the site of a thriving coal-mining camp, was established as a state park in 1985, but the canyon has been a recreational attraction in northeastern New Mexico for decades. Sugarite Canyon State Park is located about 5 miles northeast of Raton via NM-72 and NM-526 (paved). The elevation in the park ranges from about 6,900 ft to 8,400 ft. This heavily wooded mountain park has something for everyone year round. Trails are maintained through the ruins of the settlement and past coal dumps and mines.

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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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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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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.

[read more...]