Geologic Tour of New Mexico — State Parks & Monuments
Tour site types: •State Parks •Federal Parks •Other Features
New Mexico State Parks and Monuments truly have something for everyone. The parks are managed by the State Parks Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department. The geology and recreational activities of the parks are as diverse as New Mexico is. Geologic processes created the mesas, flood plains, mountains, and volcanoes that attract visitors to New Mexico state parks.
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There are currently 35 tours:
Bluewater Lake State Park
Bluewater Lake State Park lies at an elevation of 7,400 ft in Las Tuces Valley near the Continental Divide in the Zuni Mountains. The park is between Gallup and Grants along I–40, 7 mi southwest of Prewitt via NM-412. A forest of cottonwoods, piñon, and juniper surrounds the lake. The Navajos knew the area as “large cottonwood trees where water flows out” (Julyan, 1996). It became a state park in 1955. Bluewater and Cottonwood (Azul) Creeks feed the lake. The lake itself is formed by an arched dam 90 ft high and 500 ft long (Robinson, 1994) that impounds 38,500 acre-ft of water. The last time water spilled over the dam was in 1941. The dam is convex in the upstream direction for increased strength, and it is at the mouth of Bluewater Creek in a steep-walled canyon. An overlook at the end of the road through the park facilities offers an excellent view of the dam and canyon. A primitive hiking trail leads down into the canyon below the dam.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish maintains a permanent pool of water for fish and periodically stocks the lake with rainbow trout and channel catfish. Indeed, the lake is blue, as the name implies. It is well known to ice-fishermen during the winter. Power and sail boating, hiking, water skiing, wind surfing, and swimming are possible recreational activities in addition to fishing, camping, picnicking. Care should be taken driving in wet weather along the north side of the lake because of muddy conditions. Not all 25 mi of shoreline belong to the state park; some land surrounding the lake belongs to private individuals, Indian tribes, and U.S. National Forest. All water, however, is open to the public.
Bottomless Lakes State Park
Bottomless Lakes State Park is located 14 mi southeast of Roswell, on the east edge of the Pecos River valley. The park is 4 mi long, and the loop drive is 9 mi long. The park consists of approximately 1,611 acres and includes eight of nine lakes; the Fin and Feather Club owns Dimmitt Lake, the southernmost lake. Vaqueros (cowboys) who could not find the bottom of the lakes reportedly gave them their name (Young, 1984). They would tie two or three ropes together and drop them into the lakes to try to reach the bottom. The ropes were not long enough, so the vaqueros thought the lakes were bottomless! The greenish-blue color created by algae and other aquatic plants also added to the illusion of great depth.
Brantley Lake State Park
Brantley Lake State Park on the Pecos River was officially opened in November 1989. The park lies 12 mi north of Carlsbad via US–285. Brantley Lake is designed to hold 348,540 acre-ft of water. Although the primary functions of the lake are flood control and water storage for irrigation and water commitments to Texas and Mexico, the lake is best known for its water recreation and fishing. The most common fish stocked by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish include largemouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, trout, sunfish, white bass, bluegill, and crappie. Brantley Wildlife Management Area lies south of the dam, as well as north of Brantley Lake, in the area once occupied by Lake McMillan. The Pecos River valley is a major waterfowl migration route, and many species of birds are present on and near the lake throughout the year.
Caballo Lake State Park
Caballo Lake State Park is located approximately 14 miles south of the town of Truth or Consequences. Caballo Reservoir is on the Rio Grande in south-central New Mexico east of Interstate 25 between Socorro and Las Cruces.
Camping, picnicing, and boating facilities are available at this state park. Caballo Lake State Park is the third largest state park in New Mexico. This park is generally quiet compared to Elephant Butte State Park to the north.
Cimarron Canyon State Park
Cimarron is Spanish for wild and untamed and originally was used in New Mexico to refer to the wild bighorn sheep, and later to the wild horses and cattle that once roamed throughout the north-central mountains (Pearce, 1965). Today, the sparsely populated Cimarron country in western Colfax County can still be described as wild and untamed with its rugged, timbered mountains (the Cimarron Range), towering cliffs, and the previously unpredictable Cimarron River. The Cimarron River has been tamed somewhat by the Eagle Nest Dam, which controls flooding in the canyon.
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park is truly a geologic monument; it is formed by large sculptured rock columns (pinnacles) or boulders rising as high as 40 ft and separated by paths or lanes resembling city streets. About 34.9 million years ago a large volcano erupted, forming the rocks in an instant (geologically speaking); then erosion over millions of years slowly formed the sculptured columns that now provide a natural playground for children and adults alike. City of Rocks State Park was established in May 1952 to preserve this geologic wonder.
Clayton Lake State Park
Clayton Lake State Park is approximately 12 mi northwest of Clayton on NM–370 in northeastern New Mexico. Unlike most lakes in New Mexico, Clayton Lake was established in 1955 specifically as a recreational site by the State Game and Fish Commission after construction of the dam. In 1967 the site became Clayton Lake State Park. The lake offers excellent fishing and is stocked with rainbow trout, walleye pike, crappie, bluegills, bullheads, large-mouth bass, and channel catfish by the State Game and Fish Department. Boating is prohibited after the fishing season ends, so from October through April the park is a refuge for waterfowl.
The most exciting geological feature at Clayton Lake State Park is the dinosaur footprints found in sandstone at the dam spillway about 1982. Approximately 500 tracks of at least three species are found at the spillway; most of them pertain to ornithopod dinosaurs (ichnogenus Caririchnium) and theropods. The dinosaurs ranged in size from a baby Iguanodont that was approximately 1 ft long to adults that were 30 ft long. Most of the tracks are of bipedal herbivores or planteaters (Iguanodonts or Hadrosaurs). The kite-shaped tracks were made by Iguanodonts walking in wet mud. Worm borrows, fossilized impressions of plants, ripple marks from waves, and mudcracks are also common.
Conchas Lake State Park
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.
Coronado State Monument
Coronado State Monument is about 15 miles north of Albuquerque in Bernallio and is named after Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer who was in New Mexico in the mid-16th century. Coronado supposedly wintered at Kuana Pueblo, the large pueblo preserved at the state monument, between late 1540 and early 1541; however, recent excavations indicate that the Spaniards camped nearby at Santiago Pueblo, located about 2 miles to the southwest of Coronado State Monument. Nonetheless, the preserved pueblo is impressive and the kivas at Kuana Pueblo are decorated with remarkable murals that can be viewed at the Visitor's Center.
Coyote Creek State Park
Coyote Creek State Park is along NM–434, 18 mi north of Mora and 17 mi south of Angel Fire in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico. The park is at the bottom of Guadalupita Canyon, elevation 7,700 ft, where Coyote Creek runs through meadows surrounded by mountain forest before joining the Rio Mora and eventually the Canadian River to the southeast. La Mesa forms the eastern ridge and is 9,112 ft in elevation. Ocate is to the east on the eastern side of La Mesa. The Rincon Range forms the western skyline and is 9,100 ft in elevation.
Coyote Creek State Park is famous for its variety of wildflowers, including geraniums, sunflowers, iris, and primrose. Be careful of the poison ivy that also grows along the creek and hillslopes! Along the hills alpine fir, blue spruce, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, Gambel oak, hairy mountain mahogany, one-seed juniper, piñon, ponderosa pine, quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain juniper, wavyleaf oak, and white fir grow. Chinouapin oak, chokecherry, narrowleaf cottonwood, and willow grow along Coyote Creek. Wildlife common in the area include deer, bear, elk, raccoon, squirrel, beaver, coyote, and many birds.
El Vado Lake State Park
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.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
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.
Fenton Lake State Park
Fenton Lake State Park is in the Jemez Mountains on the west side of the Valles and Toledo calderas, large collapse features that formed during voluminous volcanic eruptions 1.6 and 1.25 million years ago. The landscape around Fenton Lake is characterized by broad, grass-covered valley bottoms that lie between dissected orange-brown to white mesas that are bound by imposing cliffs. The cliffs are formed by the 1.6 to 1.25 million year old outflow sheets of Bandelier Tuff that erupted from the calderas. The south-flowing Rio Cebolla (Spanish word for onion), which feeds Fenton Lake, cut one of the broad valleys after 1.25 million years ago.
Fort Selden State Monument
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.
Heron Lake State Park
Heron Lake State Park is located approximately 9 miles west of Tierra Amarilla. Heron Dam was built on Willow Creek near its confluence with the Rio Chama in 1971. This earth fill dam, which is 276 feet tall and 1221 feet long, is designed to create a reservoir to store and deliver San Juan-Chama Project water. The water is used to maintain the recreation pool at Cochiti Lake, some 120 miles downstream on the Rio Grande. The San Juan-Chama Project, managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, takes water from tributaries of the San Juan River, which lies to the west of the Continental Divide, to augment the natural flow of the Rio Grande, which is east of the Continental Divide. The water flows through the Azotea Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Willow Creek, then to Heron Reservoir and the Rio Chama, a tributary of the Rio Grande. The diversions began in 1970, delivering an annual average of 94,200 acre-feet of water to the Rio Grande. Water users include the City of Albuquerque, the City of Santa Fe, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The lake can hold 399,980 acre-feet at a crest elevation of 7,192 feet. Heron Lake State Park has been designated a "quiet lake", where boats travel at "no-wake" speeds.
Hyde Memorial State Park
Hyde Memorial State Park lies in the southwestern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Santa Fe Range. The north-south trending Sangre de Cristo Mountains are about 225 miles long, extending from near Salida, Colorado, at the north end to just southeast of Santa Fe at the south end (Bauer, 2008). The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are considered to be part of the Southern Rocky Mountain physiographic province. The mountains rise abruptly from the relatively topographically subdued High Plains on the east side. The Rio Grande rift, a northerly-trending zone of continental extension that runs from northern Colorado to west Texas, marks the western boundary of the range. The Santa Fe Range, which is cored by Proterozoic basement rocks, is bound on the north by the Peñasco embayment, on the south by Glorieta Pass, on the west by the Española Basin, and on the east by the Picuris-Pecos Fault just west of the Pecos River. At least four episodes of mountain building are recorded in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Jemez State Monument
Jemez State Monument is in scenic Cañon de San Diego, which is located to the southwest of the Toledo and Valles calderas, large collapse features that formed during voluminous volcanic eruptions 1.6 and 1.25 million years ago in the Jemez Mountains. The monument lies near the mouth of Church Canyon, a tributary to the Jemez River within Cañon de San Diego. Two main rock units, the Pennsylvanian Madera Group and Permian Abo Formation, are exposed in and adjacent to the monument (Figures 3 and 4). Both limestone from the Madera Group and sandstone from the Abo Formation were incorporated into the walls of the 15th century pueblo and the 17th century Spanish mission at Jemez State Monument. Large rounded boulders of early Jemez volcanic field basalt and andesite lavas that were eroded from the high cliffs of Cañon de San Diego and carried by the Jemez River and flash floods in Church Canyon to the vicinity of the monument are also included in the walls of the structures.
Leasburg Dam State Park
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.
Lincoln State Monument
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.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park was established in 1971 to preserve and display the wide variety of animals, plants, and natural environments found in the Chihuahuan Desert. Located north of Carlsbad on US–285, Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park offers a variety of outdoor and indoor exhibits depicting the natural, geologic, archaeological, historical, and mineral wealth of the area.
There are 15 more geologic tours that match these critera (ordered by site name).