Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Mexico Geology Primer

I haven’t talked about geology as much as I want to on this blog, so I have decided to change that, this was inspired by Anne at Highly Allochthonous, and in an effort to ease in (and because I won’t start anything resembling research until next semester) I’ve decided to write about a few important geological sights in my home state. Why? Because I love it here, and because it has fascinating and varied features which you could spend a lifetime exploring. In addition, I can pepper the stories with anecdotes about the great and sometimes very strange people and events associated with those sites. You see, New Mexico is very odd from our diet (depending on who you talk to it ranges from strange to a dire sin for any restaurant not to provide green chile as a topping) to music (go to a large dance or party the music will shift between dance music, country, and tejano) to the landforms (I’ll talk about that later) and it makes for an interesting place to live.
                Why is New Mexico so odd? It might be because New Mexico has the oldest, continuously inhabited settlement within the United States or the oldest center of government in the country or maybe it is because our history includes a tremendously successful Native American revolt which forced the Europeans out of the state and when they finally returned they had to play nice. Or it might be because of our more recent history of government research or the dichotomy of having the highest rate of PhDs per capita of any state in the union (at least according to History Channel’s series The States) and having the tenth highest rate of high school dropouts in the country. However I always assumed it was due to the diversity and uniqueness of the ecosystems surrounding us. In New Mexico you can take a four hour drive starting in the High planes and drive through deserts, mountains, and wetlands. It was a fascinating place to grow up in, and luckily for me my parents took every opportunity to teach me new and wondrous things about the history and nature surrounding me.
                However, eventually I grew older and wiser and learned a very important thing about New Mexico, all that diversity of nature I grew up being fascinated by wasn’t due to the biology which was just a symptom of a much more interesting aspect to the state, instead I learned better and learned that New Mexico is amazing due to its geology. So I am going to call my shots for future posts and provide some background info for the places I plan to write about as well.

                First off is the Southern High Plains, which isn’t my favorite part of the state, as it is flat and flat and oh did I mention flat? But it is the specific place in New Mexico where I was born and raised, so it deserves some attention. The Southern High Plains are flat because they used to be crossed from west to east by meandering streams which lazily spread across the planes through Texas into the Gulf of Mexico, however their waters were pirated away by the faster Pecos River—on a side note you know it is going to be an awesome class when your professor starts talking about pirating water.
                The High Plains now don’t have too much water, besides on the far western edge where that dastardly Pecos River still resides smugly taunting those he left destitute of water, and are mostly reliant on aquifers for the stuff (okay so even the parts of New Mexico with lakes and rivers rely on aquifers, the state’s drier then straight gin in a martini glass). I grew up drinking well water pulled up from the Ogallala Aquifer (at least for twelve years there was an interlude which we will talk about later); however, for a long time the discharge rates of the aquifer has far outstripped the recharge rate and the residents of the High Plane who think about such things fear very probable water shortages in the region’s future.

Sierra Blanca:
                Luckily, I did not spend my entire childhood out where short grass prairie and desert mix and intermingle, but instead I spend most of my elementary school years on a VOLCANO! Okay, well a very dead volcano, but a volcano all the same. Unfortunately for me, though, I did not know this while I grew up there and I didn’t completely appreciate it until after I had been gone for far too long. However, it was here that I first read a book on plate tectonics and the whole reason I stumbled into geology was that I was trying to understand how I was living on a mountain in the middle of the continental crust far away from any plate boundaries. Also this was where we went on my first college geology field trip, so happy memories!

                The first time I ever visited this site was during a field trip in Elementary school, and it was amazing; huge white dunes stretch across as far as the eye can see, and I could remember my child brain trying to reconcile the heat with the fact it looked like it had just snowed which wasn’t helped out by us trying to sled down the dunes—if you ever want an extremely effective illustration on static friction first go to Ruidoso in the winter and sled down a hill, then drive down to White Sands and try it there(actually do it the other way around unless you want to end your day on a downer).

                There is a lot I could say about this area, but to understand why this area is so cool all you need to do is imagine me excitedly screaming “THE CRUST TRIED TO PULL ITSELF APART HERE!” and you get the gist.

Carlsbad Caverns:
                When I was a child I loved bats, I don’t exactly remember why but I know the obsession I had about Chiroptera (which I actually memorized as a third grader) was greatly aided by the Caverns. If you have never seen a bat flight, I cannot highly recommend it enough. However, I recommend exploring a highly decorative cave like Carlsbad even more, the speleothems are amazing, and if you are healthy and wealthy enough you should walk in from the natural entrance and then take a guided tour to get a better appreciation for the beauty and grandeur of these caves. I still remember very vividly my second grade field trip down into the caverns and I’m pretty sure it had a huge effect on me growing up.

                So there you go, five posts that I want to get out as soon as possible, and as I have several of them in some level of completion. I’m going to try to finish one every week to week and half from time that this post is published.

 So I'm running really late on these, but I have the last two started, and I'll try to finish them soon.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting, Ryan. Thanks for sharing a little of New Mexico's geology with us. I look forward to reading the 5 posts you mentioned.