USA: New Mexico

In March 2014, Carol and I visited photogenic sights in New Mexico to capture the following evocative image galleries:

  1. New Mexico favorite images
  2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  4. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, fascinating eroded badlands
  5. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  6. Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque
  7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope
  8. White Sands National Monument

…on our 2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California: March 15-April 9, 2014. My Southwest USA states articles include: Arizona, ColoradoNevada, Utah plus Texas.

1. New Mexico favorite images


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2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park


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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wonderful Carlsbad Caverns National Park can be found in the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert of southeast New Mexico. Hike in on your own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. Geology: 4 to 6 million years ago, an acid bath in the water table slowly dissolved the underground rooms of Carlsbad Caverns, which then drained along with the uplift of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted part of the ancient Capitan Reef which thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time. Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects part of the Capitan Reef, one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian-age fossil reefs in the world. The park’s magnificent speleothems (cave formations) are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through soil and limestone rock, dripping into a cave, evaporating and depositing dissolved minerals. Drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself. The slowest drips tend to stay on the ceiling (as stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons or curtains). The faster drips are more likely to decorate the floor (with stalagmites, totem poles, flowstone, rim stone dams, lily pads, shelves, and cave pools). Today, due to the dry desert climate, few speleothems inside any Guadalupe Mountains caves are wet enough to actively grow. Most speleothems inside Carlsbad Cavern would have been much more active during the last ice age-up to around 10,000 years ago, but are now mostly inactive.

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park


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Chaco Culture NHP hosts the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in remote northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, USA. From 850 AD to 1250 AD, Chaco Canyon advanced then declined as a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 1800s. Climate change may have led to its abandonment, beginning with a 50-year drought starting in 1130.

4. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument


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See fantastic hoodoos and a great slot canyon in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, in New Mexico, USA. Hike the easy Cave Loop Trail plus Slot Canyon Trail side trip (3 miles round trip), 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, on the Pajarito Plateau. Distinctive cone-shaped caprocks protect soft pumice and tuff beneath. Geologically, the Tent Rocks are made of Peralta Tuff, formed from volcanic ash, pumice, and pyroclastic debris deposited over 1000 feet thick from the Jemez Volcanic Field, 7 million years ago. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan.

5. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness


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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is south of Farmington, in San Juan County, New Mexico, USA. This fantasy world of strange rock formations is made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. These rock layers have weathered into eerie hoodoos (pinnacles, spires, and cap rocks). This was once a riverine delta west of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. Swamps built up organic material which became beds of lignite. Water disappeared and left behind a 1400-foot (430 m) layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Waters of the last ice age eroded the hoodoos now visible. The high desert widerness of Bisti is managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

6. Petroglyph National Monument


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Ancestral Puebloan people chipped various figures into the desert varnish (oxidized surface) of 200,000-year-old volcanic basalt rock, here in Boca Negra Canyon, in Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Archeologists estimate the 23,000 petroglyphs in the monument were created between 1000 BC and AD 1700.

7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope



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The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, active 24 hours per day. Visit the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, in New Mexico, USA. US Route 60 passes through the scientific complex, which welcomes visitors. The VLA is a set of 27 movable radio antennas on tracks in a Y-shape. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter. After being built 1973-1980, the VLA’s electronics and software were significantly upgraded from 2001-2012 by at least an order of magnitude in both sensitivity and radio-frequency coverage. The VLA is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about interstellar radio emission. The VLA was prominently featured in the 1997 film “Contact,” a classic science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel, with Jodie Foster portraying the film’s protagonist, Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life.

8. White Sands National Monument


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White Sands National Monument preserves one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here in the northern Chihuahuan Desert rises the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Visit the park 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo, in New Mexico, USA. White Sands National Monument preserves 40% of the gpysum dune field, the remainder of which is on White Sands Missile Range and military land closed to the public. Geology: The park’s gypsum was originally deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin. The remaining sides of the original dome now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin. The common mineral gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because rain dissolves it in runoff which usually drains to the sea; but mountains enclose the Tularosa Basin and trap surface runoff. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) comes from ephemeral Lake Lucero (a playa), which is the remnant of ice-age Lake Otero (now mostly an alkali flat) in the western side of the park. Evaporating water (up to 80 inches per year) leaves behind selenite crystals which reach lengths of up to three feet (1 m)! Weathering breaks the selenite crystals into sand-size gypsum grains that are carried away by prevailing winds from the southwest, forming white dunes. Several types of small animals have evolved white coloration that camouflages them in the dazzling white desert; and various plants have specially adapted to shifting sands. Based on an application by two US Senators from New Mexico, UNESCO honored the monument on the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in 2008.

Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada


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Separate state articles cover travel tips & photos for southwest USA and Texas:

Recommended New Mexico guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest New Mexico travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

2004: 2012: 2012: 2010:

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