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.

Book Your Next Stay at Inn on the Alameda

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.

Book Your Next Stay at Inn on the Alameda

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!

History of the Anasazi

History of the Anasazi

Hundreds of years ago, the Anasazi, also known as the Ancestral Pueblo people, carved their homes from the volcanic turf at the sides of the cliffs in the Jemez Mountains. Today, visitors can explore this complex of cliff dwellings, called the Bandelier National Monument.  

The 50-square-mile monument offers a glimpse inside the lives of the Anasazi, including their farming and eating habits. Their diets consisted of corn, beans, squash, and native plants, along with deer, rabbit, and squirrel meat. The Anasazi also had domesticated turkeys.  

Along with the actual pueblo homes, visitors can see cave paintings and petrogylphs created by the Anasazi. There are miles of hiking trails, and the area is home to abundant wildlife. While you’re there, you may spot one of the black bears or mountain lions that inhabit the national monument area.  

The visitor center at the Bandelier National Monument features a museum with exhibits about the Anasazi, including pottery, tools, and other items of daily life. Other exhibits include dioramas demonstrating how the Anasazi lived, artwork, a 10-minute film, and more.  

The roads winding through the Jemez Mountains, just northwest of Santa Fe, are filled with history. Along with the Bandelier National Monument, the area is home to a volcanic crater and the birthplace of the atom bomb. You can see it all in a day’s trip from Santa Fe.  

 Ready to take a trip back in time? Let us help plan your next adventure! 

Field Trips Aren’t Just for School Kids

Field Trips Aren’t Just for School Kids

When was the last time you went on a field trip? We bet it’s been a while.

Santa Fe’s School for Advanced Research offers seasonal field trips for adventurers and knowledge-seekers of all ages. Local archaeological experts are hosting a field trip to El Morro and Zuni Pueblo for a two-day, overnight exploration the weekend of October 20th-21st.

El Morro, or “The Heartland,” is 200-foot bluff where Ancestral Puebloans lived long before Europeans arrived, and carved petroglyphs into the soft walls. Starting in the late 1500s, Spaniards and then Americans carved their names, dates, and messages into the walls as they passed through the area. The El Morro National Monument protects more than 2,000 of these inscriptions and petroglyphs, along with Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

At Zuni Pueblo, you will learn more about the Zuni’s unique fetish carvings and inlay silverwork. You’ll tour the exhibits at the Ashiwi Awan Museum and Heritage Center, and head to the Middle Village for a walking tour through the cultural heart of the Zuni people. The trip extends to Hawikkuh, one of the fabled Cities of Gold, where Zuni ancestors have lived since 1200 AD. It is the first place of documented Southwest history.

Don’t miss this intimate look at New Mexico history and culture guided by experts in the history of the Southwest. Let us be your home base in Santa Fe. Schedule your stay now.

Mike’s Blog: The Hot Springs of New Mexico

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?contractUrl=2&language=en-US&assetType=image&p=japanese+macaque

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images)

Among the many natural resources the state has to offer, few are as conducive to well being as the hot springs. Soaking in hot, natural waters, is one of the primal pleasures of humanity – a pleasure shared by many cultures, and even other species, as seen in the Macaque monkeys of Japan.


Some of New Mexico’s most fabled hot springs are found in the Jemez mountains, the resort town of Ojo Caliente, the historic pools of Montezuma near Las Vegas, and the artesian springs of Truth or Consequences.  A brief description of them should help the visitor decide which of these unique offerings might best fit their needs or itinerary.


Ojo Caliente is a true jewel of a town, located about 50 miles north of Santa Fe.  Named by the early Spanish explorer Cabeza De Vaca, the earliest description dates to the 16th century.

“The greatest treasure I have I found these strange people to possess,” De Vaca wrote, “are hot springs which burst from out of the foot of the mountain…. so powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants believe they were given to them by the gods.”


Image of Round Barn from ojospa.com

Nestled in, and fully a part of the landscape, the hot springs of Ojo Caliente offer much to appeal to the visitor. The historical amenities offered by the resort include several buildings entered in the National Registry of Historic Places. These include the famous ‘Round Barn’ who’s unique architecture and design remain remarkably appealing to the visitor.


The hot waters of the town of Jemez Springs have tempted Santa Feans to make the trip for decades. Named for the nearbly Pueblo of Jemez, the small town offers numerous springs and bathhouses.  The atmosphere of the Jemez Valley is a special and spiritual one, being home to both Catholic monasteries and Zen Buddhism centers.


Retreats and spas are found throughout the valley, including a village owned non-profit spa whose proceeds are invested within the community. The Jemez Bath House is over a hundred years old and remains a hub for community life.


Visitors can also find numerous free natural springs throughout the valley and are advised to check visitor reports for current conditions here.


Truth or Consequences has become synonymous for misguided civic boosterism.  Originally named Hot Springs, after the myriad natural pools and springs, the city changed its name to that of a popular Radio show in 1950 as an effort to boost tourism.  The town contains numerous resorts and baths, though there are significantly fewer than there used to be.  Before World War 2, there were around 40 registered spas.  Today there are ten, all featuring the minerally rich and complex waters of the region.


Many of these resorts can be found here, and a discerning traveler should be able to find “The cure for what ails them” through judicial booking and soaking.

Image from ojospa.com

Image from ojospa.com

As you can see, New Mexico has many geothermal amenities for the visitor.  Assistance with booking or visiting any of these locations can be obtained through the Inn on the Alameda.  We can’t wait to hear about your epic NM hot spring soaks!