New Mexico covers 314,917 sq km (121,590 sq mi), including 606 sq km (234 sq mi) of inland water. It is the fifth largest state in the United States. The state is roughly square in shape, and its extreme dimensions are 565 km (351 mi) from east to west and 629 km (391 mi) from north to south. The state’s highest point is Wheeler Peak at 4,011 m (13,161 ft), and the lowest is Red Bluff Reservoir at 866 m (2,842 ft). The mean elevation in New Mexico is about 1,740 m (5,700 ft). It is bounded on the north by Colorado, on the east by Oklahoma and Texas, on the south by Texas and Mexico, and on the west by Arizona.
Four natural regions make up the New Mexican landscape: the southernmost portion of the Southern Rocky Mountains, part of the Colorado Plateau, part of the Basin and Range province, and part of the Great Plains.
The Rocky Mountains reach southward into New Mexico in two branches, one on each side of the Río Grande Valley. To the east are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the state’s highest and most extensive mountain range, which reaches as far south as Glorieta. Within these mountains, near Taos, is Wheeler Peak. About 80 km (about 50 mi) farther south is North Truchas Peak, which reaches 3,993 m (13,102 ft).
To the south and west of Santa Fe are numerous mountain ranges. Most of these are ragged ridges varying from a few kilometers to 130 km (80 mi) long and running generally parallel from north to south. They are mostly fault-block ranges: chunks of the earth’s surface that have been broken and slowly pushed up above the surrounding land. The larger and higher of the ranges are the Sandia, Sacramento, Mogollon, Guadalupe, and Manzono mountains and The Black Range.
Between the fault-block ranges are wide extensions of the Basin and Range province: the Tularosa Valley, Río Grande Trough, and the area along the western side of the Colorado Plateau. Many of these basins have no drainage to the sea and are slowly filling up with sand, gravel, and soil washed down from the mountains.
One of the largest such basins in the world is the Tularosa Valley, between the Sacramento and San Andres mountains. The sands in and around White Sands National Monument, composed of tiny grains of gypsum, cover 582 sq km (225 sq mi) of the valley’s floor.
Other similar basins are the plains near Deming, the Playas Valley near Lordsburg, the Estancia Valley, the Jornada del Muerto, and the Plains of San Agustin. The western two-thirds of the Basin and Range province is the northernmost extension of the Mexican Highland. The eastern portion is generally called the Sacramento section. The mountainous areas west of the Río Grande include the Nacimiento Uplift, the San Juan Mountains, and the Jemez Mountains. These ranges have deep canyons and several peaks rising above 3,300 m (11,000 ft). All are largely volcanic in origin, and in the center of the Jemez Mountains is a great collapsed crater, the Jemez Caldera. At nearly 470 sq km (180 sq mi) in area, the caldera is one of the largest in the world. Long extinct, the crater is now a grassy valley known as Valle Grande. Hot springs are numerous in this region.
The Colorado Plateau in western New Mexico is a land of great horizontal layers of rock consisting of brightly colored sandstones, limestones, and shales. These are largely the hardened sediments of ancient sea bottoms and sandy shores. New Mexico’s portion of the Colorado Plateau is divided into two sections. South of Gallup the region is known as the Datil section and north of there as the Navajo section. The general elevation of the plateau is from 1,500 to 2,100 m (5,000 to 7,000 ft).
The rock layers are sharply broken off and worn away to leave high cliffs, mesas, buttes, and deep canyons. Each mesa, or plateau, is deeply eroded, showing the edges of rock layers. Over many centuries vast amounts of rock have crumbled and washed down the Colorado River. The Colorado Plateau area is the most thinly inhabited part of New Mexico but one of the most beautiful. The red sandstone cliffs near Gallup are well known, as is the golden-brown sandstone butte of the Enchanted Mesa near Grants. In the same area volcanic rocks have pushed up through the sedimentary rocks. Mount Taylor, in the San Mateo Mountains, is an old volcano near Grants that rises 3,445 m (11,301 ft).
Elsewhere the volcanic rock poured out as spreading sheets of lava. Some of these sheets have been eroded to leave mesas and buttes; others have been eroded away almost entirely, leaving only hardened cores where the lava was originally forced up. Ship Rock is a volcanic plug with radiating dikes that rise about 430 m (about 1,400 ft) above the present level of the land.
Part of the vast level expanse known as the Great Plains Province lies within eastern New Mexico, stretching from its northern to its southern tip in a belt from 160 to 240 km (100 to 150 mi) wide. The High Plains, the flattest section of the Great Plains, extend southward into New Mexico from Colorado. The High Plains are also called the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. The Spanish name is believed to be derived from the plain’s escarpment on the north and west having a palisaded, or stockaded, appearance. Elsewhere, the Great Plains are more eroded and rolling. To the north of the Llano Estacado the Canadian River has cut a canyon 300 m (1,000 ft) deep, and to the west the Pecos River occupies a wide rolling valley. This region, known as the Pecos section, is a maze of rocky cliffs and mesas and narrow ravines and canyons. Isolated hills and buttes are scattered throughout the plains, especially in the Raton section in northeastern New Mexico. These peaks, some rising above 2,700 m (9,000 ft), were important landmarks in early days. The best known of these are The Wagon Mound (2,122 m/6,930 ft) and Capulin Mountain (2,494 m/8,182 ft), which is an almost perfectly shaped cone of lava and cinders in Capulin Volcano National Monument. "New Mexico" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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