SANTA FE, N.M. For travelers whove stared slack-jawed at the jagged ramparts of Shiprock or the sweeping vista of the Valles Caldera and wondered how New Mexicos spectacular landscapes were formed, a new book holds the answers.
The 372-page volume, The Geology of Northern New Mexicos Parks, Monuments and Public Places, is part travel guide, art book and geology text.
Published by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, which is part of New Mexico Tech, the book rolls back time tens of millions of years and explains the powerful forces that shaped the state. It offers a lesson for nonscientists about natures tugging and pulling, pushing and shoving and the relentless erosion of rock.
There are dozens of maps, graphics and color photographs of some of the most beautiful places in the state, including Shiprock on the Navajo Nation reservation in northwestern New Mexico and the Valles Caldera National Preserve, which is about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe.
The 89,000-acre preserve includes much of a huge volcanic crater formed by an eruption more than 1 million years ago. Thats young in geologic time.
Geologists come to New Mexico because the geology is interesting, and the common person comes to New Mexico because the scenery is striking. Those two are not unrelated, said L. Greer Price, the bureaus deputy director and chief editor.
I hope for people who dont know the state it will be a real invitation to visit some of these places, he said about the newly published book. And I also hope from the geologic point of view that when people see these pictures and visit these places, theyll understand that landscape and scenery have a geologic underpinning.
There are entries about nearly four dozen locations accessible to the public. The range includes well-known spots such as the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque and the 75-mile-long Rio Grande Gorge, which is nearly 800 feet deep near Taos. There also are lesser-known places such as Coyote Creek State Park near Mora and Battleship Rock near La Cueva.
The book is divided into regions such as the Colorado Plateau of northwestern New Mexico, the Great Plains on the states eastern side, the southern Rocky Mountains, the Jemez Mountains and the Rio Grande Rift.
The Valles Caldera and the rift, which is the product of stretching of the earths crust, are a couple of very significant geologic features in New Mexico that you simply dont find in other places, said Price.
The rift bisects the state, running 600 miles from southern Colorado into northern Mexico.
This is a very large-scale geologic feature where the state of New Mexico is literally being torn in half, Price said.
The book also helps explain the states volcanic past. Mount Taylor near Gallup is an eroded volcano. Shiprock and Cabezon Peak are volcanic necks whats left of the plumbing of volcanos that once soared far above the current landscape but have eroded away.
Because we dont have any volcanos that have erupted in our time, people dont think of New Mexico as being such a volcanic state. But in reality, we have a huge assortment of volcanic deposits ... throughout the state, and some of them are very young, Price said.
A good example is El Malpais National Monument south of Interstate 40 near Grants. There are 100 volcanic vents in the area. One lava flow, called the McCartys Flow, extends for 36 miles from its source and is not quite 4,000 years old.
That is very young, and it looks young, Price said. If you have driven across it, it looks like youre in Hawaii.