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Posts Tagged ‘Carrizozo Malpais’

Carrizozo Malpais and Sierra Blanca, New Mexico

Posted by graywacke on January 16, 2015

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now more-or-less a once or twice a week blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2148; A Landing A Day blog post number 576.

 Dan:  How about that – I landed in a USer.  Putting a positive spin on recent landings, that makes 4 USers  for the last 11 landings.  But considering the seven OSers in a row before that, we have 4 for the last 18, thanks to this landing in . . . NM; 77/87; 3/10; 14; 148.8.  Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

My local landing map shows proximity to a number of smaller towns, none of which made it as titular.

 landing 2

Here’s my watershed map:

 landing 3

As you can see, I landed in the watershed of the Rio Ruidoso (1st hit ever!), on to the Rio Hondo (2nd hit), on to the Pecos (15th hit).  By the way, translating from Spanish, I landed in the watershed of the Noisy River, on to the Deep River, on to the Pecos.  (Pecos doesn’t mean anything in Spanish – it’s the Spanification of an Indian name for a Pueblo settlement.)

Anyway, the Pecos flows to the Rio Grande (42nd hit).  As per usual, here’s my Google Earth (GE) trip on in:


Of course, I checked out Mescalero.  Great name, but no hook.  Bent (also great name) doesn’t really exist.  Alto and the various Ruidoso towns are all johnny-come-lately resort communities, which I generally avoid.

So, I decided to go with my strength, and feature a couple of geologic features:  The Sierra Bianca Mountains and the Carrizozo Malpais:

GE 1

Let me start with the Carrizozo Malpais.  It’s that large (40 mile long) black area on the GE map, which turns out to be a lava flow!  So, how about the name “Carrizozo?”  You may recall from two recent posts where I landed in Carrizo Creek watersheds.  I remarked that “Carrizo” means “reed” in Spanish.  But Carrizozo?  This, from Wiki about the nearby town of Carrizozo:

The name of the town is derived from the Spanish vernacular for reed grass (Carrizo), which grew significantly in the area and provided excellent feed for ranch cattle. The additional ‘zo’ at the end of the town name was added to indicate abundance of Carrizo grass.  The town is now often referred to as ‘Zozo.

OK, but what about Malpais?  Well, “malpais” is Spanish for “badland,” so the term refers to a particularly-hostile hunk of real estate.

From the NM Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources:

The Carrizozo Malpais are [is?]  a lava flow that formed by magma (molten rock) pouring out of a small crack in the earth’s surface in a “Hawaiian-style” volcanic eruption. In Hawaii today, this type of eruption is very passive and is typically characterized by lava pouring from a small vent.

Geologists estimate that the Carrizozo eruption happened about 5200 years ago and would have taken between 2 to 3 decades, and that the eruption would have proceeded at a slow, steady rate. At the time of eruption, the Carrizozo lava flows may have looked like this picture of an Hawaiian lava flow:


The vent from which the Carrizozo lava flows issued is at the north end of the lava flow field, and is called “Little Black Peak.” Little Black Peak is a very small cinder cone, only 90 feet tall.  It appears surprisingly small to have produced the entire 10.3 cubic miles of lava that form the Carrizozo Malpais.

Here’s a GE Panoramio shot by “Asphalt” of a small portion of the malpais:

 pano asphalt of the lava flow

Here’s another Pano shot (by Thomas Galenbeck) showing a more expansive view:

 pano thomas galenbeck larger view

Geologically speaking, 5,200 years ago sure ain’t much (not much different from yesterday).  And realize that Native Americans were on the scene about 12,000 years ago, so you can bet that there were some interested observers watching the lava flow creep along . . .

Moving along to the Sierra Blanca.  Here’s a good little write-up from the town of Ruidoso’s website:

The White Mountain (Sierra Blanca) Wilderness Area is situated on the erosional remnants of an ancient volcano that probably once resembled Mount Ranier in Washington state.

This ancient volcano is approximately 25 to 40 million years old. During this time period, an oceanic tectonic plate was subducting under California creating a volcanic mountain chain that extended from Colorado, through New Mexico and west Texas, and into northern Mexico. This ancient volcanic mountain chain was very similar in composition and geologic setting to the current Cascade Mountain range in the Pacific northwest. Only further inland.

About 25 million years ago, the plate boundary changed. The plates began sliding past one another rather than one going under the other. The famous San Andreas Fault was born. This birth was the death of the subduction mechanism that created the volcanic chain in New Mexico. As a result, volcanism ceased around 25 million years ago and erosion has been the dominant geological force ever since.

The large, composite volcano has seen the upper half of its cone beveled by erosion over the last 25 million years. The lower half of the volcano is what is now present and exposed in the canyons of the Sierra Blanca Wilderness.

So the mountain used to be twice as tall.  Hmmm.  That’s what 25 million years of erosion’ll do . . .

Here’s a picture of the mountain (looking east from the Tularosa Basin) from the NM Museum of Natural History & Science:


The above picture stretches about 30 miles; my landing may be at the far right . . .

I’ll close with this Panoramio shot of Sierra Blanca (by R. Ruff), taken not far from my landing:

 pano R. Ruff

That’ll do it.




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