Valley of Fires Recreation Area Near Carizzozo, New Mexico
Part 1 of 2
East of the Trinity Site on US Highway 54 is the town of Carrizozo, New Mexico. Before arriving at the town one has to drive though some badlands ('malpais' in Spanish), a dark swath of lava-flow rock.
[Please do not confuse this lava-rock occurrence with the more extensive and famous one called El Malpais National Monument, or its adjoining El Malpais National Conservation Area, also in New Mexico, nearer to the city of Grants, in the northwest of the state, which I intend to visit sometime in the future.]
Coming over a hill, driving east on US Highway 54, there is this view of the dark swath of basalt rock below. On the horizon is Carizzozo Mountain, a long granite instrusion reaching to 9,000 feet above mean sea level (~3,000 m):
Looking to the south gives a great view of Sierra Blanca 11,981 feet (3,652 m), a complex of different types of rocks from volcanic and intrusive episodes:
But our goal is to do a nature walk in the black basalt lying below us.
The little point on the horizon under the cross below is allegedly the volcano from whence this flood of liquid rock sprang.
Wikipedia has a nice illustration of the location of this area with reference to the Trinity Site.
The official web site for this recreation area has this to say about the age of this lava:
Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States.
The nature trail [click to see explanatory brochure] does not cover much of this vast expanse, of course, but it does give glimpses of examples of typical features and of what can be interpreted from the shapes and structures to be seen in a lava flow.
Please consult the links provided above if you wish to read about the geological interpretation of the lava features. My brief visit was more focused on celebrating Spring through looking at what plant life can survive this hostile terrain. It is good there are fierce winds and dust stroms in this desert, they provide the soil between the rocks, and the rocks in turn focus water on the wind-blown soils between the rocks and hence support very health vegetation (in other words this was a fun visit):
Loved this 400-year old tree:
This is not good terrain for a walk in the dark:
Soil between the basalt rock supports life!
We all have to die sometime:
Sorry for that somber note, but Nature does this sort of thing, it is forever recycling life! Witness the exuberant growth around this skeleton!
Time for another page!
Go to second Valley of Fires page.
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Go Back to the Rio Grand near the Trinity Site.
The Gnome atomic test site
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