Take plenty of New Mexico dirt and rocks, add copious amounts of sun and wind, sprinkle in a bit of moisture and then set aside. Find an isolated, totally desolate piece of land such as the Ojito Wilderness. Place your mixture somewhere in the middle and leave undisturbed for awhile.
On a quiet, late-winter day drive a dozen or so miles on a rough dirt road and find a place to park. You may or may not have a particular destination in mind for your hike, but as Lee and I have learned on our excursions into the Ojito Wilderness, it won’t be long before you begin to see the beauty that sun, wind and water has carved out of the landscape.
I had fun finding rock formations that had “Windows”
A rock with some interesting life form growing on it.
One last photo that is a caution. Yes, there is beauty in a place like the Ojito Wilderness, but you have to be careful driving on the rough roads. Lee is a careful driver and, fortunately, we did not end up like this car.
This week’s quest to find a suitable area for a day hike led us to a familiar area of BLM land known as the San Ysidro Trials. I once thought it was a misspelling and was supposed to be San Ysidro Trails. But it’s “Trials” because a large section of it is used for recreational motorcyclists (aka ‘dirt bikes’) who want to test their expertise riding in and around the rocky arroyos in the area. Fortunately, during the times we have hiked there we haven’t encountered any of the roaring, noisy machines, although it’s obvious from their tracks that it is well used.
When we go there we like to walk past the trials area and get to a section of eroded sandstone that, even on a cloudy day, has colorful and interesting rock formations. As wet as the desert still is, we knew we probably would have to navigate through some muddy spots before we got to the rocks. But the parking area is right off a paved highway so we didn’t have to drive any muddy roads. In the spots where the trail got muddy we were able to pick our way through spots of grass along the trail.
Another reason we like hiking in this area is to check out the many tinajas. “Tinaja : a bedrock depression that fills with water during the summer monsoonal rains and when snowfall accumulates in the winter.” We’ve had a winter with snow accumulations and the tinajas didn’t disappoint. Here are a few of the interesting ones.
A few weeks ago when we did a hike in the Manzano Mountains I got carried away taking pictures of rocks along the trail. The wavy, layered metamorphic rocks that are abundant in the Manzanos look to me like beautiful pieces of artwork. I couldn’t resist posting some of my photos here.
Yesterday we were hiking in another area that compels me to take pictures of rocks. We were in the Quebradas, this time not an area of metamorphic rocks, but, instead, mostly sedimentary rocks. But sedimentary rocks form in layers, also, and with the fractures, folds and faults that occur on the earth’s surface many sedimentary rocks end up with fascinating shapes and patterns.
In addition to folding and faulting that reshapes the sediments, sometimes there are certain chemical processes that change the colors of the rocks in interesting ways. I don’t know all of the details, but in the laboratory of the geology class I recently completed, I remember the instructor explaining the round white dots in some reddish sandstones as places where a chemical impurity in the sandstone as it was being oxidized (changing it to the reddish color) would prevent the oxidation, leaving a white space around the impurity. There were many rocks in the Quebradas that had that feature and I photographed several samples.
Quebradas is a Spanish word meaning “breaks,” a rugged or rocky area. The BLM owns most of the land along the Quebradas Back Country Byway, a 24-mile dirt road east of Socorro that parallels I-25. There are 10 numbered stops, places along the way to park and observe various geologic features. Official hiking trails are nonexistent–you just wander anywhere in the vast emptiness that happens to capture your interest.
We parked at Stop 4, which is in the upper reaches of the Arroyo del Tajo. A nice hike that we have done before is to walk about 2-1/2 miles down the arroyo, observing the rocks (in Lee’s case observing the wildflowers, which are few and far between this time of year) and then rounding a corner to find yourself in this amazing slot canyon.
Walking out the other side leads to a nice ledge to stop and have lunch, which is what we did, before turning around and retracing our steps back to the car. Altogether an enjoyable winter hike.
Some of my favorite rocks are metamorphic rocks that have been formed by intense heat and pressure into wavy patterns referred to as foliation or schistosity. One of the best places I know to find metamorphic rocks is in the Manzano Mountains. On two hikes that we took there recently I found myself continually stopping along the trail to take pictures of the rocks.
The map view shows the location of the two hikes. The red line is a hike up Trigo Canyon, which is on the west side of the mountains, about midway between the north and south end of the range. The blue line is the Kayser Mill Run trail, at the south end on the east side.
I’ve made two groups for the metamorphic rock photos that I took. The first group was taken on the Trigo Canyon hike and the second group was along the Kayser Mill Run trail. I hope that you will appreciate the fascinating artistry of God’s handiwork in creating these formations.
If you are viewing the page that shows the two groups in a gallery, please click on the individual photo to see a larger image.
Even before our recent trip to Germany, I think I would have understood that “Verboten” meant I was forbidden from collecting any rocks in this area. So then how was it that I came home Saturday hauling a bucket of rocks up the stairs to our apartment? Well, one of the advantages of membership in the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club is the opportunity to go on field trips such as this one that was a visit to a mining claim owned by a member of the club. With his permission and guidance our collecting was allowed.
A number of the group members elected to go on the guided tour of one of the underground workings.
I was more interested in exploring the geology of the area from above ground where there is plenty of fresh air, sunshine and blue sky. This was a part of New Mexico we had passed by on travels across the vast desert just north of White Sands Proving Grounds but we never had occasion to stop there. I couldn’t picture what the area would look like where we would be collecting minerals. It was several miles off the highway, jolting across rutted dirt roads, and as we approached I noticed a range of mountains ahead of us.
As I later learned, the Blanchard Mine is on the western flank of the Sierra Oscura Mountains, an area we never would have thought to explore for a hike because of its remoteness and proximity to White Sands Missile Range property. The base of the mining claim area is accessible without a high clearance vehicle, but the last 2 miles of road up the ridge required four-wheel drive and steel nerves on the narrow ledges. I parked my car at the base and rode up to the top in a more suitable vehicle with some other club members.
A little bit of everything from the collection.
The club member who owned the mine claim gave us an informative talk before we began collecting. I learned a lot about the history of mining in this area and about the geology. One of the most interesting facts was the difference between a patented and unpatented mining claim. If a mining claim is patented then the owner has deed to the land, as well as owning the mineral rights. Unpatented mining claims are usually located on land owned by the federal government. The owner of a patented claim can enforce “no trespassing” on the land, as opposed to this mine which was unpatented and located on BLM land. As the sign said, the public could be prevented from collecting on the site, but anyone could come out and explore the area. That’s good to know for the future when we might want to do some hiking instead of rock collecting. We have limited space in our apartment so I need to focus on enjoying hikes in wonderful, rocky New Mexico, instead of bringing home these irresistible specimens that I’m then struggling to find room for.
I think I have a love-hate relationship with rocks. I was hating every single one of the rocks that littered the countless ruts in the maze of dirt roads we were navigating in our attempt to find a trail that started at an abandoned campground in the Manzano Mountains. I winced at every thud and jolt under the body of our car as we inched forward at a snail’s pace. No one in their right mind would take a Toyota Corolla on these roads. Lee could tell I was greatly annoyed at having been persuaded yet again to do one of these “exploratory” hikes.
But after two hours, when we finally got to the base of the mountains and started up the trail, all was forgiven. I was no longer upset with Lee and I was absolutely loving the rocks I was seeing in this part of the mountains. I was pretty sure they were metamorphic rocks, which we don’t see as often as igneous and sedimentary rocks. The intense heat and pressure that’s required to form metamorphic rocks gives many of them fascinating wavy layers in patterns referred to as foliation or schistosity. I could have hauled home pounds of beautiful specimens but limited myself to a few photos. Rocks are meant to stay where God put them for us to enjoy and cars are meant to stay on the paved roads. Me and rocks will get along just fine if we both stay where we belong.
What in the world am I going to do with all of these rocks I collected during the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Society field trip that Lee and I went on yesterday? It was fascinating to poke around in the vast desert arroyos and marvel at the variety of interesting rocks. I couldn’t stop picking them up and putting them in my bucket for further study. But now that I have them here at home I can’t imagine what I’m going to do with them. I’m just not a collector.
The field trip was billed as an expedition to the Rio Puerco, which we had no idea of what to expect or exactly where it might be. Since we know the 230-mile extent of this river (‘rio’ is the Spanish word for ‘river’) currently has no water in it, we figured it would be somewhere out in the desert. Lee didn’t care about collecting rocks but decided to go so he could check for desert wild flowers.
We both enjoyed seeing this desolate area southwest of Albuquerque, way down a dirt road we never would have explored on our own. It was actually an escarpment that was cut by multiple arroyos that would have drained into the Rio Puerco basin in the valley below at such times in the past when there might actually have been water. I studied geology last semester, but can only make a guess, at this point, to say that because there used to be a lot of sediments carried down the arroyos could be why there are now so many interesting rocks laying around everywhere.
I’m taking a ‘Geology of New Mexico’ class this semester. The rocks are one of the many features of our Land of Enchantment that I appreciate and enjoy. But I think I just have to leave them out there where God put them in the first place. That way they will be there for others to enjoy and for me to see the next time. My main goal is to know what rocks I’m looking at and to understand how they might have gotten there to begin with. Of course, you could never know for sure. Some eager ‘collector’ like me could have gotten tired of having a bunch of rocks sitting around and taken them and dumped them out at a random location nowhere near where they were collected. Hmm….is there somewhere I could take my collection and leave it to mystify the next person?