May 21, 2010

The Ancient Volcanoes of Northern New Mexico

Before leaving the beautiful state of New Mexico and headed up into Colorado, we did a loop in the northern stretch of the state that included the volcanically formed features of the Jemez Mountains. This included Jemez Springs, Valles Caldera, Brazos Cliffs, and some other interesting spots.

The first place we went was Jemez Soda Springs. These springs gush water full of calcium/sodium precipitates that produce beautiful formations in places where the water evaporates, leaving the minerals behind. This has resulted in a large soda dam, which for a time, blocked the flow of water downstream. However, the stream eventually eroded into the base of it allowing the stream to flow again and leaving a thick arch.

Inside the formation is the actual spring. It is a tall tower of soda/calcite materials.

Above the valley are the Jemez Mountains, containing some very interesting volcanic erosional features of tuff, where ancient volcanic ash has eroded into strange formations. This whole region consisted of rhyolite supervolcanoes that blanketed the area in ash. Bandalier National Monument, which I discussed in an earlier post, is part of this volcanic area. Most of the activity occurred between 600,000 and 1.4 million years ago.

Next it was onto Valles Caldera. This ancient volcanic crater contains a huge elk population. The rim of this crater sits over 11,000 feet high, with grassy meadows at the bottom of the basin floor. There is a ancient volcanic vent that looks like an island of trees in the middle of it. It was preserved as a National Preserve area during the Clinton Administration, but remains managed by the Santa Fe National Forest.

11,400 foot rim of the caldera in the distance

We continued over to the edge of the Colorado Plateau near Cuba, NM and saw these very familiar sandstone cliff formations known as the Echo Amphitheater.

Then it was up the road to over 10,000 feet on our way toward Colorado that led us past the 11,400 foot Brazos Cliffs which separate the Colorado Plateau from the Rocky Mountains in this region.

Brazos Cliffs

Next Stop...Colorado

But, we'll be back to New Mexico again, you can count on it!

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