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3 Must See Geologic Wonders of New Mexico

Most folks know about New Mexico’s most famous geologic wonders, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument.

But did you also know that New Mexico has a gigantic field of lava, a string of seemingly bottomless sink holes filled with deep blue water, or an expanse of land covered with rock formations so intriguing and unique that you might just think you are on another planet?

If not, then now is the time to discover these little known geologic wonders.

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1. Kasha – Katuwe Tent Rocks

Towering rock spires, cone-shaped volcanic formations, and tapering hoodoos with boulder caps are only a sampling of the wonders that grace this National Monument.

The fascinating landscape is the result of multiple volcanic explosion millions of years ago that left behind a layer of pumice, ash, and tuft 1,000-feet thick.

kasha katuwe tent rocks

Over time air and water caused the layers to erode into the stunning formations that we see today.

Getting There:

  • Forty five-miles southwest of Santa Fe. Take exit 264 off I-25. Follow NM 16 to NM 22 and follow the signs to the monument.
  • Sixty-miles northeast of Albuquerque. Take exit 259 off 1-25. Follow the signs on NM 22 to the monument.

Ways you can explore:

  • Take a hike on the 1.2-mile Cave Loop Trail. Stroll along this relatively level trail past cone shaped rocks and explore a small cave tucked back in the cliffs.
  • Challenge yourself with a trek up the 1.5-mile (one-way) Canyon Trail. Travel through a narrow slot canyon and scramble up a steep ravine to the top of the mesa. Catch your breath and enjoy distant views of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains, along with the Rio Grande Valley below.
  • Drive nine-miles down the main park road to the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook. Have a picnic at one of the covered pavilions while taking in the view.

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Things to know before you go:

  • The fee to enter the monument is a $5/per vehicle. Flash your Federal Recreation America the Beautiful, Senior, or Access pass to get in free.
  • The monument is open for day use only. During the winter months (11/1-3/10) the hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the summer months (3/11-10-31) the hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Leave the pooch at home. There are no dogs allowed on the trails or in the monument.

Where you can stay:

The Cochiti Lake Campground on the shores of Cochiti Lake is located 8.5 miles from the monument. This Army Corps of Engineers campground has 80 sites with roughly half offering electric and water hook-ups, and half with no hook-ups.

2. Bottomless Lakes State Park

Just east of Roswell, NM amid endless acres of flat ranch land and oil fields, lies a series of lakes so deep, so blue, and so mysterious that they came to be known as the Bottomless Lakes.

Legend has it that sometime in the late 1800s local cowboys set out to determine the depth of the lakes by tying ropes together and feeding them down into the water.

But since the ropes never managed to reach the lakebed, the cowboys gave up – deciding to call the lake bottomless instead. 🙂

bottomless lakes state park

At some point a modern day cowboy must have come along with a longer rope, because today we know that the lakes range in depth from 18-90 feet.

The lakes, which are actually sinkholes, formed when circulating water dissolved gypsum and salt deposits in the limestone rock, creating a network of underground caverns.

Over time the roofs of some of these caverns collapsed leaving behind deep, round holes which then filled with water.

Today Bottomless Lakes State Park is a popular recreational destination for those seeking to enjoy these beautiful lakes.

Getting there:

  • 12 miles east of Roswell on US 380, then 7 miles south on NM 490.

Ways to explore:

  • Hike the nearly one-mile Bluff Trail and stop along the way to view all seven lakes.
  • Bike the 3-mile round trip Skidmarks Trail on the mesa above the lakes.
  • Seek out feathered friends on a stroll around the half-mile Wetlands Trail.
  • Take a dip in Lea Lake. The largest of all the lakes, the astounding 90-foot depth of this lake keeps the water cool and refreshing even on the hottest of days.
  • Rent a paddleboat, hydro-bike or raft for a small fee and explore Lea Lake
  • Have a picnic on the sandy shores of Lea Lake, spend the day lounging at one of the covered shade pavilions, or let the kids enjoy the playground.
  • Go to the park Visitor’s Center and learn about the lake’s history, geology, and wildlife.

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Things to know before you go:

  • The day use fee at Bottomless Lakes is $5/car. A New Mexico State Park Day use pass ($40/year), or Camping Pass ($180/year for residents or $225/year for non-residents) will get you in for free.
  • The gates to Lea Lake campground and day use area are closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day. All other areas of the park are open 24 hours.
  • Lifeguards are only on duty at Lea Lake during the summer months.
  • Pets are allowed on the trails, in the day use area, and at the campground.

Where you can stay:

  • Bottomless Lakes State Park has numerous camping opportunities. Lea Lake campground offers up 32 sites with electric and water (some with 50amp), and six sites with sewer connections. All sites have covered picnic tables and grills. There are also several primitive camping areas along the Bluff Trail.
  • Outside the park, Roswell has several RV parks to choose from. The closest to the lake are the Red Barn RV Park and the Trailer Village RV Park.

3. Valley of Fires Recreation Area

In between the While Sands Missile range and the Lincoln National Forest lies a gigantic field of cooled lava.

The Malpais Lava flow is believed to be the youngest lava flow in the continental U.S., with the most recent flow occurring only 1,500 to 2,000 years ago.

The lava spewed from volcanic vents and flowed south along the Tularosa Basin for 44 miles. Occasionally the lava surrounded areas of higher ground, and formed islands among the lava called kipukas.

The Valley of Fires Recreation Area is located on one of the larger kipukas overlooking the lava flow. From here you can gaze at the seemingly endless expanse of shining black lava.

You can even venture out onto the lava flow for a closer look.

valley of fires recreation area

Getting there:

  • Four miles west of Carrizozo on US 380.

Ways to explore:

  • Walk the paved Malpais Interpretive Trail. Stroll through the lava field past pressure ridges, collapsed bubbles, lava tubes, and ropey-looking lava called Pahoehoe.
  • Ask at the visitor center about a longer Guided Hike through the lava field.
  • Go the park Visitor’s Center and learn the history of the area, or treat yourself to a t-shirt and commemorative trinket.

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Things to know before you go:

  • The day use fee is $3/car with one person, or $5/car with two or more. Federal Recreation America the Beautiful, Senior, or Access passes are honored here.
  • The recreation area is open 24 hours, but the Interpretive Trail is not lighted so plan your visit accordingly.
  • Pets are allowed on the Interpretive Trail

Where to stay:

  • Valley of Fires has 19 campsites with covered picnic table and grills. Fourteen offer electric and water hook-ups. There is also a dump station and bathroom with showers on site.
  • The nearby town of Carrizozo has one RV park. The Sands Motel & R.V. Park offers full hook-up 30 or 50 amp sites.




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