Going to Maars in New Mexico

Going to Maars in New Mexico


The cliff face above the Upper Falls, Bandelier National Monument

No, that is not a typo. A maar is a type of volcano. New Mexico is infested with them, statistically speaking. By now you may have noticed that I seem to talk about volcanoes and volcanic features rather often. It’s impossible not to do so – New Mexico should have been called the Volcano State rather than the Land of Enchantment. You can hardly look out your window anywhere in New Mexico without seeing something volcanic. New Mexico has “one of the largest numbers, the largest diversity of type, the largest range of preservation, and some of the best type examples” of volcanoes in the North American continent. We even have a bun in the oven, so to speak, smack dab in the middle of the state: the Socorro Magma Body. This is a mid-crustal sill of magma that is slowly, but actively, inflating beneath the city of Socorro, New Mexico and surrounding areas, one of only three such features in the United States – and the only one that hasn’t expressed itself at the surface. Yet.

A maar is shallow, flat-floored volcanic crater formed by violent steam explosions, caused when ascending magma meets water at or near the Earth’s surface. The eruption at the surface is confined to these explosions, which toss out great quantities of loose, water-sodden sediment mixed with shattered fragments of chilled magma and the occasional bit of exotic rock torn from the deeper crust. No great cone of lava is built, and in fact the low crater, usually only a mile to two across, typically fills with water to form a shallow, circular lake. Such relatively modest features don’t last long here at the surface, where weathering and erosion work relentlessly, so if you find a maar it’s probably pretty young. Geologically restless New Mexico has a world-class collection of maars, in all stages of preservation, and just west of Santa Fe, the Rio Grande River and its short tributaries have cut canyons right through an entire pock-marked field of these things, preserved by burial under the lavas of the Caja del Rio Volcanoes.

One of these short tributaries is the beautiful canyon of the Rito de Frijoles, which forms the centerpiece of Bandelier National Monument west of Santa Fe. This lovely canyon, which is mostly cut in the orange and pink deposits of the Bandelier Tuff, is accessible from end to end, nearly, by trails which start at the Visitor’s Center. The most popular trail heads up canyon to the Ceremonial Cave, with its 140 feet of ladders pinned to the cliffs and the restored kiva in its alcove far above.

A walk among the Ponderosa on the Falls Trail in Bandelier

But if you head down canyon, you will be treated to a number of wonderful sights along the so-called Falls Trail: meadows full of towering Ponderosa pine, the chortling music of the Rito de Frijoles, two waterfalls, a remarkable transition from woodlands to arid canyon vegetation, and some beautiful color in the autumn. You can follow this trail all the way down to the Rio Grande if you like, although the last bit is in a sloggy delta covered in dead junipers (once flooded by the lake behind Cochiti Dam) that I prefer to avoid.

For years I hiked down this trail and wondered at the tall cliffs of contorted lava above the waterfalls, which protect a softer wall of obviously stratified material, orange, buff, white, and grey, that could not contrast more strikingly with the somber rocks above. And this stratified stuff didn’t fall into any easy categories of sedimentary rocks I’d seen before: no water-cut channels, no dune or bar-like features, a weird regularity of bedding and the oddest mix of volcanic particles with regular sand, and – strangest of all – rough boulders of basalt sitting right in the middle of the beds, with the layers below bent down and contorted, as if someone had just thrown them there.

Finally I learned that I was actually walking inside of a volcano. Frijoles Canyon has cut a perfect cross section into the flanks of a maar, and the stratified beds are the remains of the wet sediment and shattered lava flung out by explosion after explosion of steam caused by an injection of magma into the floodplain of an ancestral Rio Grande. The gently sloping layers are punctuated by volcanic bombs ejected by explosions beneath the riverbed and hurled down onto the flanks of the growing tuff ring, as it is sometime called. That explained my mysterious boulders.

Lower Falls Trail Maar Crater

And if you turn around you will see this. It’s very likely that the Upper Falls is cascading down the lava-choked throat of the vent that fed the maar in the first place. Amazing!

Cliffs towering above the Upper and Lower Falls

You can see in the above picture that these lavas have a ‘sticky’ component, by the way they are thickened and contorted, rather than showing the flattened ‘runny’ layers characteristic of basalt lavas.

But it gets even better. Check out the photo on the left.  Just below the Upper Falls, you can actually see the curving interior of the crater of the maar, which has been filled with layers of lava, interbedded with scoria. The shallow crater filled with small lakes of lava!


All of these features are preserved by thick flows of contorted andesite that form the cliffs above. Andesite is a lava rather closely related to basalt, but with a higher silica content. Don’t quote me on this, but I think of andesite as ‘contaminated’ basalt – basalt that has incorporated lighter material from the crustal rocks through which it has leaked upwards.

But I always found these particular rocks puzzling, since they are nearly as dark as basalt and full of tiny crystals of olivine – that component of the Earth’s mantle whose presence nearly always shouts ‘basalt’! Oh well, no one said igneous petrology was straightforward.

In any case, what an opportunity it is, to be able to see a volcano from the inside out, as you can do here on a lovely trail not far from Santa Fe. It’s just one more reason to visit Bandelier National Monument when you come out to see us, here in maar-velous New Mexico.

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Natural Albuquerque: The Rio Grande Nature Center

Natural Albuquerque: The Rio Grande Nature Center



Rio Grande Nature Center
It’s funny how, even in urban areas, nature makes a stand if you give her half a chance. Sometimes she’s a little too pushy, of course, if you count earthquakes and hurricanes – or termites –  those times she lets you know who’s really boss. Sometimes she nudges you lightly with a sparkle in her eye, when a hawk decides to nest on the upper floors of a Manhattan apartment building. I’m thinking, however, of those graceful places and moments where the natural and the cultural coexist with intention. At the end of Candelaria Street in Albuquerque, where the road ends abruptly in the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande, there is such a place: the Rio Grande Nature Center.
The Rio Grande neatly bisects the state of New Mexico from north to south, entering the state with vigor not far from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and exiting at the southern border as a desert-bound river near El Paso, Texas, where it turns in an easterly direction, on its long way to the warm sandy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The northern stretch of the river is hemmed in with rocky canyons over most of its length – the Rio Arriba, or upper river, of the Spanish – but just southwest of Santa Fe the river leaves its confines near the Pueblo of Cochiti and takes up a more sedate course through the rest of the state.

A path through the bosque of the Rio Grande

Most of New Mexico enjoys a semi-arid climate, and a great deal of the central and southern part of the state is downright arid – as in qualifying as true desert, where less than 10 inches of rain will fall in a year. The Rio Grande flows year-round even in the driest times, however, and its narrow floodplain supports a unique ribbon of deciduous forest throughout the central part of New Mexico. It’s called the bosque – a Spanish word for woodlands – and interestingly, the place it is best developed – and most accessible – is right in the middle of our largest city, Albuquerque. Walking and biking trails run for miles through the leafy cottonwoods of the bosque throughout the city; the Albuquerque zoo takes advantage of its pleasant shade; and at the end of Candelaria Street the city has created a park to celebrate its little Nile: the Rio Grande Nature Center.
Ponds in the floodplain attract waterfowl of all kinds, and there is a very pleasant room, perched on the edge of one pond, with floor to ceiling windows, sofas and chairs, a little library, and a view into a sea of birds and turtles:
Viewing room at the Rio Grande Nature Center

The viewing room at the Rio Grande Nature Center

Hidden microphones pipe the cacophony of peevish waterbirds right inside. Here culture and nature truly intersect, as you sit back in the comfort of a sofa and listen to avid birders point out the distinctive markings of the female wood duck – yes, that little brown one that has just pushed all the other birds off the feeder.
There are some good interpretive displays inside the nature center, as well as a sweet little bookstore and a children’s activity room.  Outside there is a network of trails under the cottonwoods of the bosque, with access to the banks of the Rio Grande and series of small gardens of native plants. Concrete walls with strategically placed holes form blinds for viewing ducks, geese, snipe, cranes, and other waterfowl at the edge of the ponds. There are excellent views of the Sandia Mountains to the northeast.

Interpretive displays inside the Rio Grande Nature Center

It’s funny: in spite of hiking all around the Southwest, some of my most fascinating animal sightings have been right here in the heart of Albuquerque. I’m thinking of enormous porcupines perched in the upper branches of the forest canopy, nesting owls, a roadrunner with a lizard squirming in its beak, and – best of all – a pair of bald eagles feasting on a fish on a sandy island in the river. So if you can tear yourself away from the historical delights of Santa Fe for part of a day, or if you have a few hours to kill in Albuquerque, waiting for your flight, consider a walk along the Rio Grande under the cottonwood trees. Keep your eye peeled for porcupines. And hey, it’s Albuquerque, so you can hit a Satellite Coffee or the Flying Star Cafe minutes later!
The Sandia crest seen from the Rio Grande Nature Center

The Sandia crest seen from the Rio Grande Nature Center

Inn on the Alameda, That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, proudly presents all historical blog posts written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.

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Randall Davey Audubon Center

Randall Davey Audubon Center


Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary main sign

Sometimes you just need a quick getaway from town, a breath of fresh air, a place to stretch your legs without too many people around, and maybe a spot just to sit and be quiet for awhile. We have the perfect destination for you: The Randall Davey Audubon Center, just a couple of miles from the Inn on the Alameda, with good parking at either the Center itself, or just off Upper Canyon Road, at the Santa Fe River Canyon Nature Preserve. Both are free.

It’s a lovely place to have a short hike and there are a variety of paths in the Nature Preserve south of the Center, with interpretive signs here and there. The “serious” birders are also quick to post their sightings.

Randall Davey Hiker

A pleasant walk on a winter afternoon. That’s Picacho Peak above.


An interpretive sign near the classroom and nature store

Randall Davey bird sign

Catch of the day

A friend and I love to stop by the River Preserve to see what the beavers have been up to. Lately they’ve been rearranging their dams.  “Busy as a beaver” doesn’t begin to describe these creatures. It’s amazing what they can accomplish!

Randall Davey new bear pond

The latest engineering project on the Santa Fe River

Randall Davey chewed tree

An evening’s nosh

Randall Davey felled tree

And down, ready for stripping and hauling. That’s a big tree!

There are already plenty of birds to see, even though it’s still February, and more are no doubt on the way. The robins are back – that’s always encouraging – and we also spotted mallards on the beaver ponds, scrub jays, white-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, juncos, two kinds of towhees, and a pair of red-tailed hawks circling overhead, keeping everyone in line. The usual menagerie of reptiles is absent since it’s still winter, so for those of you averse to slithery things, this is a great time for a walk.

Getting There:

From the Inn on the Alameda, turn east on Alameda Street (toward the mountains) and follow it along the tree-lined Santa Fe River until it makes a sharp right turn. At the stop sign at the intersection with Upper Canyon Road, turn left and enjoy a slow drive through a very picturesque section of Old Santa Fe until the road makes an abrupt left turn. Here you have a couple of choices: you can turn left here and then immediately right into the parking area for the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe River Preserve, or you can continue straight ahead, along a dirt road, about half a mile to the paved parking area at the Randall Davey Audubon Center itself. There’s a great nature store here, and it’s the meeting place for the Saturday morning bird walks. Check their website for the calendar of events.

Randall Davey's House

The old Randall Davey House seen from inside the Preserve

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Snow, Glorious Snow!

Snow, Glorious Snow!


New snow along the East Fork Jemez River Trail

The Pacific storms that have been soaking Southern California have been doing us a bit of good here in Northern New Mexico, and this past week was the perfect opportunity to strike out for the high country and see what nature has put in the storehouses. Our choice this time was one of my favorite walks up in the Jemez Mountains, a trail along a little steep-walled canyon so beautiful that a friend of mine calls it “Beaver Valley” after some half-remembered Disney fantasia from childhood. It’s an idyllic hike in the summer, with a cheerful creek winding along the flat floor of a narrow canyon crowded with spruce and dotted with wild rose and iris. I’d never seen it in the depths of winter, and now was the time.

The real name of the trail is the East Fork Jemez River, and our point of departure was the Las Conchas Trailhead, just off Highway 4 not far after you leave the Valle Grande in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It’s about 57 miles from Santa Fe.

Snow squall over the Valle Grande in the Jemez Mountains

The drive up was beautiful. The last snow squalls from the departing storm were still blowing through the mountains and the forest, flocked with fresh white, was almost hypnotic. Of course we pulled over at the Valle Grande overlook to have a look at the snow:

It is impossible to capture the scale of this mountain park, but you can get a measure of the expanse by noting the height of those full-grown trees at the foot of the mountains. (At other times of the year, you can pull up with the other visitors and listen to people arguing about if those little specks way out there are really a herd of elk.)

The Valle Grande is just a small part of the great volcanic caldera that blocks out the center of the Jemez Mountains. It has held a number of crater lakes in the recent geologic past, which account for its forest-free floor. The fires below are banked for the time being, however, and now, in winter, the Valle becomes a dazzling bowl of snow. It truly is a sight to behold.

The Las Conchas Trailhead opens off Highway 4 at a place where the East Fork of the Jemez River enters a box canyon that it has cut through the tortured rocks of the South Mountain rhyolite. This rhyolite is a thick flow of silica-rich lava erupted around 550,000 years ago, during the waning stages of volcanic activity in the Jemez. The flow blocked drainage inside the caldera for a while, but the lava was overtopped by water and a narrow canyon was soon carved through the resistant rock. A subsequent episode of backfilling gave the canyon a flat floor, which accounts for its unique attractiveness, and makes a summertime walk delightful.

Usually when you pull up to the trailhead you have a suspicion that you have stumbled into an REI commercial. Cattle Call Wall (pictured to the right) is usually thick with rock climbers, and there are always many more just inside the canyon, shouting happily to each other and jingling their carabiners.

Snow-covered bridge over the Jemez River

There were no climbers on Saturday. The summertime crowds of hikers were missing, and the gurgling creek was muted by ice and buried under about two-and-a-half feet of new snow. A few hardy snowshoers had broken a path – bless them – and my friend and I wound our way into the hushed winter paradise within.

Let me just mention that crossing these very narrow bridges on an unstable icing of over two feet of new snow is somewhat . . . challenging. There’s not a lot of margin for error, and it’s really really hard to put one foot in front of the other when you are wearing snowshoes. Always be sure to bring someone along to help pull you out of the creek, but don’t let such minor obstacles stop you from enjoying the glorious snows of our New Mexico winter.

Inn on the Alameda, That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, proudly presents all historical blog posts written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.

Discover the the Nation's Newest National Preserve

by exploring the Valles Caldera!

Jews of New Mexico

Jews of New Mexico


Jewish history in New Mexico goes back, it has been argued, to the founding of the colony. There is evidence that some contemporary New Mexican Hispanics may be descended from “Crypto-Jews” or Marranos. These would have been Sephardic Jews during the 15th and 16th century who, under penalties of the inquisition, were forced to convert to Catholicism; yet still retained certain cultural markers of Jewish identity.

Temple Montefiore, Las Vegas, NM - First Jewish House of Worship in NM

Temple Montefiore, Las Vegas, NM –

First Jewish House of Worship in NM

Facing enormous consequences if caught, the “conversos” who chose to continue practicing Jewish rituals and identity found themselves forced to the edge of the Spanish Empire, or the New Mexican colonies of the Southwest.   Though the evidence is controversial, there have been both ethnographic and genetic pieces of evidence linking the latino culture of New Mexico with Jewish descent.  There are oral accounts of keeping practices like Kosher slaughter and celebration of the sabbath as well as DNA evidence.  One genetic study of 78 latino New Mexicans centering on Albuquerque found 30 displaying genetic markers associated with Jewish descent, markers found in only 1% of the general population.

Temple Beth Shalom, Santa Fe, NM

Temple Beth Shalom,

Santa Fe, NM

The history of Ashkenazic Jews in New Mexico is more recent and less controversial.  Like many pioneers, they welcomed the opportunities present with the opening of the Southwest and the United States’ control over the New Mexico territory.  Trade routes that were oriented to Mexico and were zealously guarded by Spanish policy became disrupted as New Mexico began to orient itself with the greater American market and economy.

Jewish heritage places high values on learning and education, and with a propensity for business, these immigrants were able to grow in prominence in the mercantile trade.

Some of the Jewish families who responded to these opportunities were the Bibo family, ten siblings who immigrated to New Mexico during the 1870s.  Three of them started mercantile businesses.  Jewish traditions of helping out family and relatives led to increased immigration as Jews prospered and sent for their families back east.  The Spiegelberg family, for instance, was a major influence in the territorial economy.  Wili Spiegelberg was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Second National Bank of Santa Fe.  The Spiegelbergs provided work and welcome for many Jewish immigrants, employing several members of the Bibo family and welcoming their cousins, the Zeckendorfs, who opened several stores in Santa Fe and one in Albuquerque.

After the Civil War, however, business got tougher and the Zeckendorfs headed to Tucson and opened a store there. Eventually they migrated back to New York where they became successful real-estate developers. In the 1980s, Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf returned again to Santa Fe and became leading developers and patrons of the arts, instrumental in both the growth of the Santa Fe Opera and the creation of the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

The Jewish community remains a vibrant one in Santa Fe and one which visitors can explore. During your next stay at the Inn, be sure to take a trip to the Santa Fe Opera House and the Lensic Performing Arts Center – two Santa Fe landmarks that exist today thanks to the hard work and dedication of my friends, the Zeckendorfs.

Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, Dear Friends of Joe Schepps

Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, Friends of Joe Schepps

Inn on the Alameda, That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, proudly presents all historical blog posts written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.

During your next stay at the Inn, be sure to take a trip to the Santa Fe Opera House

or the Lensic Performing Arts Center – two Santa Fe landmarks that exist today thanks to the hard work and dedication of my friends, the Zeckendorfs.