Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico

Rowe Mesa above the Glorieta Pass into Santa Fe

Rowe Mesa above the Glorieta Pass into Santa Fe

I’ve been leading a few guided hikes lately, in the countryside around Santa Fe, and while I’ve lived and hiked here for many years, I’m still amazed at the diversity of natural features we enjoy in this corner of the Southwest. Finding a suitable walk for guests with geological interests is never a problem. And when you add in the rich overlay of human cultures in New Mexico, almost any walk becomes a dream-like journey though times past, from symbols with which we can resonate, to artifacts of an almost alien world.

Inscriptions on El Morro

Inscriptions on El Morro, a cliff made up of the ancient dunes of a Jurassic desert

Four great provinces of the American West come together near Santa Fe, to account for this diversity. We sit at the foot of the southernmost range of the Southern Rockies, a group of mountains bordered on the east by the Great Plains, and buttressed on the west by the Colorado Plateau. A rift valley bisects these regions from north to south, bringing a prong of the fourth province, the Basin and Range, into our mountain setting.

All of these regions stand far above sea level, basking in the sharp light and dry air of their high altitude settings. The Colorado Plateau averages 2 km above sea level, and a few peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains reach 4 km. Even Albuquerque, in its basin along the Rio Grande, is 1.6 km above the sea. Rocks are well exposed in this high and dry country, and getting out to see them is always a pleasure.

And the variety! All four provinces host young Cenozoic volcanic features: lava flows, ash-flow tuffs, volcanic cones and domes, as well as good exposures of sub-volcanic structures such as dikes, laccoliths, necks, and stocks.

A Pliocene basalt flow on La Bajada Mesa

A Pliocene basalt flow on La Bajada Mesa

Ancient Precambrian metamorphic and plutonic rocks are extensively exposed in the cores of our mountain uplifts.

A boulder of migmatite high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

A boulder of migmatite high in the Sangre de Cristo

In each province sedimentary rocks form a colorful blanket, carrying a record of environmental change that ultimately spans the late Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic Eras.

Permian red beds

Permian red beds

A visit to Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico is an invitation to explore a vast and varied natural history with only a little time and effort. Immerse yourself in Deep Time and you will find your travels here enriched in ways you never expected.