Coyote Creek State Park
modified and updated from McLemore, V.T., 1999, Coyote Creek State Park: New Mexico Geology, v. 21, p. 18-21.
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 (Fig. 1). 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.
Figure 1--Index map to Coyote Creek State Park.
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.
The rugged mountain ridge to the west of the park, the Rincon Range, consists of Proterozoic metamorphic rocks of the Vadito and Hondo Groups. Lithologies are diverse and include quartzofeldspathic gneiss, amphibolite, metatuff, pelitic schist, and quartzite (Grambling, 1990). Rocks of the Vadito Group were deposited along a continental margin in a continental rift or back-arc basin about 1720–1700 million years (m.y.) ago (Williams, 1990). Rocks of the younger Hondo Group were deposited on a shallow marine shelf about 1700–1690 m.y. ago (Williams, 1990). Deformation of the rocks probably occurred during several periods between 1650 and 1400 m.y. ago. Outcrops of these rocks are exposed sporadically along NM–434. Eroded boulders and pebbles of multicolored white to gray to brown gneiss, schist, and quartzite most likely from the Rincon Range are found in Coyote Creek and throughout the park.
The oldest outcrops in the park are Pennsylvanian to Permian strata (325–245 m.y. old) that are poorly exposed along the forested slopes of La Mesa. They consist of gray sandstone, gray to brown siltstone, and gray to black shale of the Sandia Formation, Madera Group, and Sangre de Cristo Formation. Locally, gray marine limestone beds are interbedded with the sandstone and shale. These rocks were deposited in an active marine geosyncline called the Rowe–Mora Basin (Bachman, 1953). A geosyncline is a deep basin in which thick deposits of sedimentary and volcanic rocks accumulate. In this area, most of the sediments were shed from the Uncompahgre uplift to the west. Both the basin and the uplift formed at the time of the formation of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains during the Pennsylvanian. The seas retreated and returned several times during Permian through Cretaceous (65 m.y. ago) time. Only the oldest marine rocks of Pennsylvanian– Permian age are exposed in Guadalupita Canyon; the younger rocks were eroded.
The sedimentary rocks exposed along the slopes of La Mesa dip 30°–70° to the east as a result of the formation of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains during Cretaceous–early Tertiary time (Bachman, 1953; Anonymous, 1983). This event is known as the Laramide orogeny. An orogeny refers to the process of forming mountains. About 70 m.y. ago the region was uplifted, faulted, folded, and tilted, forming the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as we see them today. Major periods of erosion followed uplift, forming alluvial fan deposits along the eastern foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These rocks also have been eroded in the Coyote Creek area. About 8.12 m.y. ago, basaltic volcanoes began to erupt in the Ocate area east of Coyote Creek. Fourteen eruptive pulses have been recognized by Olmstead and McIntosh (2004; Fig. 2)
Figure 2--39Ar/40Ar ages of basalt flows in the Ocate Volcanic field (from Olmstead and McIntosh, 2004)
Most sedimentary and volcanic rocks are laid down sequentially, the oldest rocks at the base and the youngest at the top. However, in the Ocate volcanic field, the oldest basaltic flows form the highest mesas, and the youngest flows form surfaces lower in elevation (O’Neill, 1988). This reverse stratigraphy occurred because after the older flows were erupted about 8.3–5.7 m.y. ago on a relatively flat, low-relief alluvial plain (O’Neill and Mehnert, 1988; Dolliver, 1990), the entire area was uplifted, and subsequent canyons were cut into the basalt flows. Younger basalt flows then filled the major stream canyons and lower broad valleys. When uplift ceased, the youngest basalt flows of the Ocate volcanic field flowed on top of intermediate-aged flows.
At Coyote Creek State Park, basalt flows cover La Mesa. Cliffs of basalt crop out along the mesa edge and can be seen from the park. Similar basalt flows of about the same age form the canyon bottom in the northern part of the state park and northward along NM–434 (Bachman, 1953; O’Neill and Mehnert, 1988; Baltz and O’Neill, 1990; Olmstead and McIntosh, 2004). A concealed fault may separate the flows in the canyon from the mesa, or the basalt flowed across the mesa and into the valley. Boulders of basalt are common in Coyote Creek and throughout the park. The group shelter is constructed partly of these boulders. The basalt is black, fine grained, vesicular, and consists of olivine, clinopyroxene, augite, plagioclase, magnetite, and rare biotite and quartz. Look closely at the basalt, and you will see visible laths and euhedral-shaped crystals; this texture is called porphyritic. The basalt flowed south from two vents south of Black Lake, which is north of Coyote Creek State Park. A sample of the basalt from north of the state park was radiometrically dated as 4.7 m.y. (O’Neill and Mehnert, 1988). The basalts forming La Mesa were dated as 4.2–4.6 m.y. and were in part erupted from three small vents at Cerro Montoso and from the central part of La Mesa. These basalts are similar to the flows exposed in Coyote Creek; vesicular scoria forms the upper crust of the lava flow. Boulders of gray to black to reddish-brown scoria and gray to black basalt are found along the trail.
After eruption of the older lava flows, the area continued to be uplifted. Coyote Creek was part of a complex river system that started high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west and north and that included present-day Moreno Valley in the Angel Fire area (O’Neill, 1988; Colpitts and Smith, 1990; Dolliver, 1990). About 4.5 m.y. ago, basalt flows blocked the Coyote Creek drainage near Black Lake, forming the Moreno Valley to the north. Outcrops of these basalts can be seen along NM–434 at the head of Guadalupita Canyon, south of Black Lake. Streams trapped in the Moreno Valley became sluggish and began to fill the closed basin. Swamps and lakes developed, and the valley slowly filled with sediment. Eventually, streams breached the Cimarron Range on the eastern edge of the Moreno Valley at a low spot and formed Cimarron Canyon (McLemore, 1990).
Coyote Creek, now cut off from the Moreno Valley, flowed from highlands formed by basalt flows and local, uplifted Paleozoic rocks and continued to erode, forming Guadalupita Canyon. The river tends to form a steep-walled canyon because the upper layer of basalt is hard and resistant to erosion. Coyote Creek now contains a variety of boulders and smaller rocks from the surrounding mountains.
The surrounding mesas form distinctive landforms. The mesa-capping basalt is hard and resistant to weathering, whereas the underlying sandstone and shale are easily eroded. As the underlying rock is eroded, cliffs and overhangs of basalt are left forming the mesa top. When the overhang becomes too large, pieces break off and roll downslope. This slope talus covers much of the older Pennsylvanian and Permian sedimentary rocks. Locally along Coyote Creek, small ponds have formed behind basalt boulders.
- Anonymous, 1983, Coyote Creek: New Mexico Geology, v. 5, p. 60.
- Bachman, G. O., 1953, Geology of a part of northwestern Mora County, New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey, Oil and Gas Investigations Map OM-137, 1 sheet, scale: 1.25 inches to 1 mi.
- Baltz, E. H., and O’Neill, J. M., 1990, Third-day road log, from Angel Fire to Las Vegas, via Black Lake, Guadalupita, Mora, Rociada, and Sapello; in Bauer, P. W., Lucas, S. G., Mawer, C. K., and McIntosh, W. C. (eds.), Tectonic development of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 41, pp. 67–96.
- Colpitts, R. M., Jr., and Smith, C. T., 1990, Geology of the Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico; in Bauer, P. W., Lucas, S. G., Mawer, C. K., and McIntosh, W. C. (eds.), Tectonic development of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 41, pp. 219–228.
- Dolliver, P. N., 1990, Pre-Coyote Creek landscape and High Plains origins; in Bauer, P. W., Lucas, S. G., Mawer, C. K., and McIntosh, W. C. (eds.), Tectonic development of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 41, pp. 73–75.
- Grambling, J. A., 1990, Proterozoic geology of the Rincon Range north of Guadalupita, New Mexico; in Bauer, P. W., Lucas, S. G., Mawer, C. K., and McIntosh, W. C. (eds.), Tectonic development of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 41, pp. 207–210.
- McLemore, V. T., 1990, Cimarron Canyon State Park and Colin Neblett Wildlife area: New Mexico Geology, v. 12, pp. 66–71.
- McLemore, V. T., 2001, Silver and gold resources in New Mexico: New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, Resource Map 21, scale 1:1,000,000.
- Olmstead, B.W., and McIntosh, W.C., 2004, 40Ar/39Ar geochronology of the Ocate volcanic field, northcentral New Mexico: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Bulletin 160, p. 297-308.
- O’Neill, J. M., 1988, Late Cenozoic physiographic evolution of the Ocate volcanic field; in Petrology and physiographic evolution of the Ocate volcanic field, north-central New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 1478-B, pp. B1–B15.
- O’Neill, J. M., and Mehnert, H. H., 1988, The Ocate volcanic field—description of volcanic vents and the geochronology, petrology, and whole-rock chemistry of associated flows; in Petrology and physiographic evolution of the Ocate volcanic field, north-central New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 1478-A, pp. A1–A30, 1 sheet, scale 1:125,000.
- Williams, M. L., 1990, Proterozoic geology of northern New Mexico: Recent advances and ongoing questions; in Bauer, P. W., Lucas, S. G., Mawer, C. K., and McIntosh, W. C. (eds.), Tectonic development of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook 41, pp. 151–159.
- Young, J. V., 1984, The state parks of New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 160 pp.