Geology of the Jemez Area, Part 11: Resurgence

The previous chapter may be found here.

Redondo Peak

Redondo Peak. Looking northwest from 35 47.946N 106 31.625W

1.25 million years ago, and a few thousand years after the Valles event, the Valles caldera formed a deep depression in the central Jemez. The jagged caldera rim had eroded rapidly, producing broad alluvial fans whose lower slopes were submerged beneath a deep crater lake. Hydrothermal vents in the lake bottom polluted its otherwise pristine waters, but life had returned to the caldera and to the broad outflow sheets of Tsherige Member tuff that had covered the lower terrain around the caldera in all directions.

The hydrothermal activity showed that the Valles event did not spell the end of volcanic activity in the Jemez. On the contrary, large volumes of fresh magma were injected into the emptied magma chamber almost at once, and soon fed a series of eruptions that have continued almost to the present day.

In this chapter, we will look at the volcanic activity in the Jemez volcanic field that occurred shortly after the Valles event.

  1. Resurgence
    1. Deer Canyon Rhyolite
    2. Redondo Creek Rhyolite
    3. Debris flows
  2. Ring fracture domes
    1. Cerro del Medio
    2. Cerros del Abrigo
    3. Cerros Santa Rosa
    4. Cerro San Luis and Cerro Seco
    5. San Antonio Mountain
    6. South Mountain
    7. Cerro La Jara
    8. The Golf Course Alluvium
  3. A Crater Lake
    1. The original lake
    2. San Antonio Lake


Digital relief map of Redondo Creek and Deer Canyon
      exposures in the Jemez Mountains
Relief map of the Jemez with Deer Canyon outcroppings highlighted in yellow and Redondo Creek  outcroppings highlighted in red.

In the last chapter, we saw this panorama of the Valle Grande.

Panorama of
          Valle Grande
Valle Grande. 35 51.096N 106 27.305W

The mountain appearing in the photograph at the start of this chapter, and to the left in this panorama, is Redondo Peak, located towards the center of the Valles caldera. It is equally spectacular viewed from the west.

West caldera rim
View east from west caldera rim. 35 52.509N 106 39.871W

The mountain at left is San Antonio Mountain. The main peak to its right is Redondo Peak. Just below Redondo Peak is a shallow valley, the Rendondo Graben, whose west side (closer to us) is Redondo Border. Then comes the Sulfur Creek valley between Redondo Border and the southern slopes of San Antonio Mountain, and, in the foreground, San Antonio Canyon. The mouth of San Diego Canyon is to the right, and at far right is Cebollita Mesa.

Valles Caldera resurgent dome

Redondo Peak resurgent dome in Valles Caldera

Redondo Peak and Redondo Border together are a resurgent dome, circled in the satellite photograph above. They are  part of the floor of the caldera (which is also the roof of the underlying magma chamber) that was forced upwards by injection of fresh magma into the magma chamber very shortly after it was emptied by the Valles event. And by "very shortly" I mean that it was pushed up within about 27,000 years of the Valles event, implying an average rate of growth of over 2 cm (almost 1 inch) a year. For the most part, Redondo rose as a solid mass, like a piston pushed up from below, just as the caldera floor had originally dropped like a piston during the Valles eruption. Redondo Peak is the second highest peak in the Jemez, illustrating how substantial a resurgent dome can be. It is, in fact, the type specimen of a resurgent dome, the first one described in a geological paper, back in the 1960s.

Curiously, the structure of the resurgent dome as mapped by drilling suggests that the Toledo Event was not followed by significant resurgence. In the Jemez, resurgence is unique to the Valles event.

The small knob in the photographs on the north flank of Redondo Peak is called Redondito. It is underlain by Bandelier Tuff, which underlies most of Redondo Peak and Redondo Border as well. The thick beds of Bandelier Tuff atop these mountains were one of the clues that these were originally part of the caldera floor, and not remnants of a central volcano.

The Redondo Graben is a valley bounded by faults to east and west. It is a little like a very small version of a rift valley, cutting across the resurgent dome. It is common for resurgent domes to show such a feature, which is known as a medial graben. Mallard Lake Dome in Yellowstone, for example, is crossed by a medial graben. These form because the rock beds are stretched as they are pushed up into a dome. The rock is brittle and fractures, typically along parallel faults. The block bounded by the faults drops in place, somewhat like the keystone of an arch if the sides of the arch are pulled slightly apart.

Diagram of medial graben

It may be significant that the Redondo graben is aligned with both the Jemez Fault Zone in San Diego Canyon, to the southwest, and the Toledo Embayment, to the northeast. The medial graben likely formed along existing faults.

Alamo Canyon is a smaller medial graben on the north side of the resurgent dome.

Alamo Canyon

The floor of the canyon has dropped along faults in the north and south walls.

Deer Canyon Rhyolite

Although the resurgent dome rose as a solid mass, it was badly faulted, and these faults provided paths for small quantities of magma to escape from the dome. The earliest of these formations is the Deer Canyon Rhyolite, which is exposed at Cerro Pinon.  Cerro Pinon is underlain by Bandelier Tuff, Deer Canyon Tuff, and Deer Canyon Rhyolite, with an apron of flow debris on one side. This outcrop on the south side, protruding through broken Tsherige Member, Bandelier Tuff, is Deer Canyon Tuff.

Deer Canyon
Deer Canyon Rhyolite. 35 53.379N 106 29.693W

Deer Canyon Tuff plug

Deer Canyon Tuff 35 53.379N 106 29.693W

This is a much whiter tuff than the surrounding Tsherige Member and contains some lithic fragments that look like andesite. It’s not hydrothermally altered Tsherige Member. The geologic map shows a vent at this precise location, indicating that the geologists who prepared the map also spotted this outcrop and interpreted it as an eruptive vent of the Deer Canyon Tuff that has been exposed by erosion.

Further up the hill, one encounters the upper surface of the Tsherige Member.

Tsherige Member
          upper surface on Cerro Pinon

Tsherige Member upper surface on Cerro Pinon. 35 53.476N 106 29.841W

Evidently this outcrop was of considerable interest to some geologist at some point; it has more holes in it than a major party political platform. I counted no less than sixteen geologic sample boreholes on this exposure/

Above this bed is Deer Canyon tuff, though it’s heavily mantled with soil and I had to work down the contact to find a good exposure. Evidently, I was not the first:

Deer Canyon tuff

Deer Canyon tuff. 35 53.442N 106 29.825W

Close examination shows that this is the same kind of tuff as in the vent below, through which it very likely erupted.

Above the tuff, there are scattered outcrops of massive Deer Canyon rhyolite. Here they are poorly exposed and mingled with debris flow deposits, Better exposures are found to the southwest of Cerro Pinon, just above the main Preserve gravel road in this area.

Deer Canyon rhyolite

Deer Canyon Rhyolite clast. 35 53.203N 106 29.964W

Deer Canyon rhyolite

Deer Canyon Rhyolite outcrop. 35 53.193N 106 29.945W

Exposures of Deer Canyon tuff are almost always overlain by exposures of Deer Canyon massive rhyolite, though the rhyolite often lies directly on older rocks.

Both tuffs and massive flows of the Deer Canyon Rhyolite are exposed in Valle Jaramillo, though the later are more voluminous.

Deer Canyon Rhyolite

Deer Canyon Rhyolite in road cut. 35 54,147N 106 33.441W

Here massive Deer Canyon Rhyolite overlies Deer Canyon tuff. Here’s a close up of shards of each:

Deer Canyon
          Rhyolite tuff and massive flow samples

The shard at left is the tuff, which is a very fine-grained, porous, white rock. The shard at right is the massive rhyolite, which is chock-full of crystals of quartz. The presence of quartz confirms that this is Deer Canyon Rhyolite and not Redondo Creek Rhyolite.

Redondo Creek Rhyolite

Another early resurgence formation is the Redondo Creek Rhyolite, which is found primarily on the flanks of Redondo Border. This crops out at several locations along State Road 4 as one approaches La Cueva.

Redondo Creek Member
Redondo Creek Member. 35 52.495N 106 38.139W

Radioisotope dating of this outcrop gives it an age of 1.23 million years. Analysis of the magnetite and ilmenite content of the formation indicates that it erupted at a temperature of about 810 degrees Centigrade, compared with 700 Centigrade and 850 Centigrade for the lower and upper flows of the Tsherige Member.  The unaltered rhyolite is quite glassy, and, like much volcanic glass, quite dark in color.

Redondo Creek Member
Redondo Creek Member. 35 52.495N 106 38.139W

Note the many plagioclase phenocrysts. The rock has the composition of a rhyodacite but has no visible quartz. The lack of quartz phenocrysts distinguishes this rock from the Deer Canyon Rhyolite, as does its stratigraphic position; it overlies the Deer Canyon Rhyolite wherever both formations are found.

This outcropping is fairly solid rock that is little altered from its original state after cooling and solidifying. Much of the Redondo Creek Member has been extensively hydrothermally altered. For example, there is a prominent outcropping on Route 126 just north of its junction with State Road 4.

Redondo Creek Member

Redondo Creek Member in contact with Battleship Rock tuff. 35 52.289N 106 38.511W

To the left in this photograph is the Redondo Creek outcropping, which shows some flow banding in the center of the outcrop. The pinkish rock to the right is much younger tuff of the Battleship Rock flow.

Redondo Creek Member

Sample of Redondo Creek Member. 35 52.289N 106 38.511W

The yellow color is from hydrothermal alteration, and suggests that the Redondo Creek Member erupted into a crater lake that had formed in the caldera. The Deer Canyon Rhyolite is also frequently altered, and shows that a lake quickly accumulated in the caldera after it was formed.

Further north and up slope from Route 126, there are outcrops of Redondo Creek Member that have been extensively hydrothermally altered, to the point where the remaining rock is spongy.

Redondo Creek Member

Redondo Creek Member outcrop with extensive hydrothermal alteration. 35 53.191N 106 38.544W

This looks like it may originally have been a block and ash flow, as do many other outcrops in the area.

Both Deer Canyon Rhyolite and Redondo Creek Rhyolite are exposed along Sulfur Creek in the Sulfur Springs area, which is accessible from Forest Road 105 north of State Road 4. Forest Road 105 enters the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and one must park at the gate and have paid the entrance fee to hike along the road to Sulfur Springs.  There are some impressive stacks of Redondo Creek Rhyolite north of the springs.

          Creek rhyolite stack along Sulfur Springs

Redondo Creek Rhyolite along Sulfur Creek

Stacks of Redondo Creek Rhyolite along Sulfur Creek north of Sulfur Springs. 35.914N 106.608W

The yellowish discoloration towards the bottom indicates that hydrothermal alteration has taken place. Typical alteration minerals here are alunite and jarosite, which are insoluble sulfate minerals of aluminum and iron respectively. Alunite has the formula KAl3(SO4)2(OH)6, and jarosite shares the same structure with ferric iron taking the place of aluminum.

Debris flows

Much of the terrain around the resurgent dome is underlain by thick debris flows. For example, much of the ridge north of Valle Jaramillo is underlain by debris flow deposits.

Debris flow north of Valle Jaramillo

Debris flow near Valle Jaramillo. 35 54.921N 106 29.955W

The mass of boulders on the ridge is the tip of a debris flow. Here this consists mostly of large boulders of intracaldera Tsherige Member, Bandelier Tuff. This likely eroded off the resurgent dome as it rose.

Here's another debris flow on the valley floor.

Debris flow

Debris flow on floor of Valle Jaramillo. 35 54.792N 106 30.581W

Most of these exposures are lag deposits,where the matrix and finer gravel has been eroded away, leaving the larger boulders. Pristine debris flow exposures are harder to come by, but there is a pristine exposure in a road cut on the saddle between Valle Jaramillo and Redondo graben.

Pristine debris flow

Pristine debris flow deposit. 35 54.093N 106 33.048W

Numerous blocks of mostly pre-caldera rocks are cemented together by an ash-rich matrix. There was enough silica in the ash to ensure that this deposit was well cemented, so that this exposure is quite solid rock, and not the loose colluvium it appears to be at first glance.

Ring fracture domes

Digital relief map of Paleogene exposures in the Jemez
Relief map of the Jemez with Valles Rhyolite massive flows (excluding El Cajete-associated flows) highlighted in red and associated tuffs in yellow.

The Valles panorama near the start of this chapter show Cerro del Medio, the oldest and largest of the ring fracture domes in the caldera, to the northeast of Redondo Peak. Other domes can be seen in the distance between Cerro del Medio and Redondo.

The ring fracture domes are circled in the photograph below.

Valles Caldera ring fracture domes

RIng fracture domes in Valles Caldera

Unlike the Redondo Peak resurgent dome, which consists of existing rock pushed up by the injection of fresh magma below, these smaller domes formed from freshly erupted magma that seeped up through the ring fracture. This magma was high in silica but low in dissolved gases, so it erupted relatively gently. Small quantities of pumice were erupted that are now found scattered throughout the Los Alamos area. Much of the lava that erupted was so high in silica and low in water vapor that it formed obsidian flows.

It may seem peculiar that an eruption though the ring fracture would be concentrated at individual vents. This is actually very typical of eruptions along a long fissure. Eruptions in Hawaii sometimes begin with a "curtain of fire" spread along a fissure, but the eruption quickly concentrates at a single vent. This is because the lava cools quickly to plug the narrower parts of the fracture, forcing more lava through the wider parts, which are eroded and made even wider by the passage of the lava. The same process took place in the Valles caldera.

Geologists do not believe that the Valles and Toledo eruptions and the subsequent dome eruptions came from a single long-lived magma body. Rather, the evidence from subtle differences in chemistry is that each eruption came from a separate batch of magma formed from freshly melted crust that entered the magma chamber.

The valley between these domes and the north rim of the caldera is sometimes described as the northern moat. Here's a panorama from the north rim:

Valles Caldera north moat

North moat of Valles Caldera. 35 59.983N 106 29.845W

At far left is Polvadera Peak, and to its right is the north rim of the Toledo Embayment. Tshicoma Peak just peeks over the should of Cerro Toledo, then comes Turkey Ridge across the mouth of the Embayment. To its right is Valle Toledo, with Cerro Posos at the southeast end of the valley and the east caldera rim beyond. Cerro del Medio is at the south end of Valle Toledo, and Cerros del Abrigo lies along the southwest of Valle Toledo. A narrow valley separates this from the Cerro Santa Rosa complex, with part of Valle Grande, the south caldera rim, and Sandia Crest visible in the far distance along the narrow valley.

To the right is Valle San Antonio, with Redondo Peak beyond. Just northwest of Redondo Peak is Redondo Border, while north of Redondo Peak is Cerro San Luis. To its west is Cerro Seco and San Antonio, with the caldera west rim and the Sierra Nacimiento beyond. At far right is Cerro de la Garita on the caldera north rim.

The second panorama is from a point a little further east.


Valles Caldera north moat

North moat of Valles Caldera. 35 59.995N 106 29.540W

The weather is muddier and there is a shoulder of the rim blocking some of the view west, but this gives a better view into the Toledo Embayment. And the fall colors are lovely.

At left is the Toledo Embayment, with Turkey Ridge across the mouth of the embayment. To the right, on the skyline, are Pajarito Mountain and Cerro Grande. These two mountains form part of the eastern rim of the caldera. In front of them, a thin sliver of the Valle Grande is visible, and then Cerro del Medio. In front and to the right of Cerro del Medio is Cerros del Abrigo. In front of these two domes is Valle Toledo. If you click to get the full resolution image, you can just make out Pipeline Road running in front of Cerros del Abrigo. This road follows the natural gas pipeline from the Farmington area to the city of Los Alamos.

The mass of hills at center is Cerros de Trasquilar. Above the narrow valley between Cerros del Abrigo and Cerros de Trasquilar is another distant view of Valle Grande, and beyond that, the south caldera rim.

Towards the right on the skyline is Redondo Peak. In front and to the right of Redondo Peak is Cerro San Luis. Redondo Border is just beyond Cerro San Luis and we are looking more or less straight down the rift valley between Rendondo Peak and Redondo Border. To the right of Cerro San Luis is Cerro Seco, and, at extreme right, just peeking over Cerro Seco, is San Antonio Mountain. At the feet of Cerro San Luis and Cerro Seco is Valle San Antonio. Valle Toledo and Valle San Antonio make up the north moat.

From the top of the Warm Springs dome, one can see almost the entire length of the northern moat of the caldera.

Warm Springs
Warm Springs. 35 58.298N 106 33.728W

The panorama begins looking down the north moat to the west, The north caldera rim continues to the right, with the rim directly north of Warm Springs at center and Cerro de la Garita to its right. The rim continues to the east, where we look down Pipeline Road and the north moat towards the Toledo Embayment.

There is apparently good fishing in the creeks in the north moat. When I spoke to the Valles National Preserve staff at the headquarters about touring the geology of the north moat in 2015, the best they could offer was to sell me a fishing permit that would give me access to the north moat. The Preserve has since moved to a different use model, and I was able to get a back country vehicle pass to take many of the photographs in this book.

The domes did not erupt all at the same time. Cerro del Medio erupted about 1.17 million years ago, very shortly after the Valles caldera eruption, and there is a steady progression in age counterclockwise around the ring fracture: Cerros del Abrigo at 0.97 million years, Cerro Santa Rosa at 0.93 million years, Cerro San Luis and Cerro Seco at 0.80 million years, and San Antonio Mountain at 0.56 million years.

Cerro del Medio

Cerro del Medio was the first of the ring domes to erupt, at around 1.17 million years ago. The first eruptions were pyroclastic flows exposed along the Valles Preserve road west of Cerros del Abrigo.

Cerro del Medio
          pyroclastic flow

Cerro del Medio early pyroclastic flow. 35 55.332N 106 30.219

Cerro del
          Medio ignimbrite

A very pretty lithic tuff, exposed in a borrow pit.

There were at least six subsequent pulses of activity, building up a low dome of considerable size.

Cerro del Medio

Cerro del Medio. 35 51.099N 106 27.312W

Cerros del Medio is centered in this short panorama, with Cerros del Abrigo looking over its left shoulder and the east rim of the caldera to its right. The dome has a lower aspect (height to width) than the later domes, suggesting the lava was hotter or richer in volatiles in this early eruption than those that followed.

Here's a closer view of the southeast part of the dome, showing the rugged exposures of rhyolite:

Cerro del Medio
          southeast cliffs

Southeast face of Cerro del Medio. Looking north from 35 50.999N 106 27.915W

This shows just how steep a rhyolite flow can become (a high-aspect flow) due to the extremely high viscosity of rhyolite magma.

The road to the north moat skirts the western edge of Cerro del Medio. Here the devitrified obsidian beds of the earliest resurgence flows are exposed.

Obsidian flows
Devitrified obsidian flows. 35 54.655N 106 29.102W

This part of Cerros del Medio has been radioisotope dated as 1.21 million years old. The beds also show no distortion, in spite of the fact that they nearly lap onto the edge of the resurgent dome. It is this observation that leads us to the conclusion that the resurgent dome formed very quickly after the caldera eruption: If resurgence was still taking place after these flows were erupted, they should show extensive faulting or other disturbances.

Cerro del Medio is particularly noted for its many prehistoric obsidian quarries. Obsidian can still be found in the area.

          del Medio spherulites

The rock contains numerous spherulites, some of which have not yet devitrified from obsidian. There are also bits of obsidian in the nearby roadbed, such as this one.

Cerro del
          Medio obsidian

This sample is about three inches across.

Cerros del Abrigo

The next dome complex is Cerros del Abrigo with a radiometric age of 0.97 million years.

Cerros del
Cerros del Abrigo viewed from the west. 35 54.848N 106 30.333W

This dome is much steeper than Cerro del Medio, suggesting the magma from which it formed had become significantly more viscous over the 200,000 years separating its eruption from that of Cerro del Medio. On the other hand, the dome was built up from four eruptive pulses, and the first produced significantly lower-aspect flows than the later flows. These rhyolite flows are exposed along the trail up to the dome.

Cerros del Abrigo rhyolite

Outcrop of rhyolite of Cerros del Abrigo. 35 55.072N 106 29.591W

Cerros del Abrigo

This is typical of the Valles Rhyolite, rich in phenocrysts of feldspar and quartz in a light, highly vesicular groundmass.

Cerros Santa Rosa

There is some confusion in terminology for the next dome complex, Cerros Santa Rosa. Geologists use this name for the main dome complex and Cerro de Trasquilar for the small dome to the north that appears to be part of the complex, but has been shown to have a significantly older radiometric date. However, the topographic map for this area reverses the name, using Cerros de Trasquilar for the entire complex and Cerro Santa Rosa for the small dome to the north. I'll go with the names used by geologists, though I suspect it is the topographic map that has them right.

Cerro Santa Rosa

Cerros Santa Rosa. Looking north from 35 55.494N 106 30.294W

This dome complex is 0.93 million years old, only slightly younger than Cerros del Abrigo. Geologists recognize two eruptive pulses for this dome.

Cerro San Luis and Cerro Seco

The next two dome complexes erupted at almost the same time, both having radiometric ages of 0.80 million years.

Cerro San Luis

Serro San Luis. Looking south from 35 58.319N 106 32.351W

Serro San Luis was built up in two pulses of activity. On its northeast flank, it rests on ignimbrites from the older Santa Rosa dome complex.

Santa Rosa ignimbrite
Santa Rosa ignimbrite. Looking west from 35 57.065N 106 31.213W

On its west flank, flows of Serro San Luis fill a paleovalley in older debris flow and lake terrace deposits.

Cerro Seco is also 800,000 years old, and was built up from at least two pulses of activity.

Cerro Seco
Cerro Seco. Looking southwest from 35 58.327N 106 33.638W

The massive flows rest on pyroclastic beds that include hydromagmatic beds, showing that the caldera floor in this vicinity was covered by a lake at the time of the first eruptions.

San Antonio Mountain

The westernmost ring dome is San Antonio Mountain.

San Antonio Mountain

San Antonio Mountain. Looking southwest from near 35 58.359N 106 35.013W

The mountain lies atop Deer Creek Rhyolite and Redondo Creek Rhyolite, which we have already seen exposed in the Sulfur Creek valley. Unlike the previous dome complexes, this one produced no known pyroclastic flows, being built up from two main pulses of activity plus a possible smaller pulse of activity.

Sulfur Point

Sulfur Point. Looking west from near 35 54.568N 106 36.682W

This is Sulfur Point, a possible smaller eruptive center of the San Antonio Member of the Valles Rhyolite.

San Antonio Mountain is also accessible from the west side, along San Antonio Valley, which lies mostly on National Forest lands.

San Antonio Mountain

San Antonio Mountain. Looking east from 35 54.570N 106 39.844W

San Antonio Mountain is at center, with the prominent cliffs on the east rim of San Antonio Canyon across the frame. The distant mountain on the skyline at the center of the left frame is Cerro Pelon on the La Grulla Plateau.

There are accessible exposures of the rhyolite of San Antonio Mountain in the area around San Antonio Springs. Some larger boulders of this rock are visible along the trail leading to the springs.

San Antonio rhyolite

San Antonio Rhyolite boulders along trail to San Antonio Springs. 35 56.464N 106 38.783W

You can see flow banding in these rocks. Here's a sample shard from along the trail.

San Antonio

Like most rock assigned to the Valles Rhyolite, this is a light vesicular rhyolite with numerous visible quartz crystals.

South Mountain

The next ring dome is South Mountain, which nearly fills the southern moat southeast of Redondo Peak. South Mountain erupted about 520,000 years ago, with four pulses of activity recognized by geologists. The earliest flows filled a paleovalley nearly coincident with the current East Fork Jemez River valley, and, as with the other ring domes, later eruptions were of a more viscous lava that built domes close to the source vent.

South Mountain

South Mountain. Looking northwest from 35 49.438N 106 29.989W

South Mountain

South Mountain and Cerro la Jara viewed from the northwest. 35 50.198N 106 33.135W

In this panorama, Cerro del Medio is visible beyond the trees at left; behind it is the caldera east rim. The small, isolated hill is Cerro la Jara, with South Mountain to its right in the foreground.

State Road 4 road runs south of South Mountain and Banco Bonito, and Forest Road 10 branches off south into the Valle de los Indios between Banco Bonito and the southern caldera rim.

        Mountain Rhyolite outcropping

        Mountain rhyolite
South Mountain rhyolite. 35 48.552N 106 35.182W

This outcropping probably came from the second of four eruptions that formed South Mountain about half a million years ago. Most of South Mountain is in the Valles preserve and strictly off limits for collecting, but this outcropping is located on a right of way just outside the preserve. It closely resembles the sample of San Antonio Rhyolite we saw earlier.

Cerro La Jara

The Valles Preserve offers a short hike around Cerro La Jara. This is a small volcanic dome well out on caldera floor, close to the visitors center, and hiking around it takes an hour if you explore a little on the way. Since this hike is an excellent introduction to the geology of rhyolite domes, it's worth describing the hike in some detail here.

First, the view from the visitor's center:

Cerro La Jara seen from visitors' center
Cerro la Jara seen from the visitors' center. Looking southwest from 35 51.412N 106 29.459W

That's Cerro La Jara in the background. It may not look like much, but that's because you don't realize until you get up close that the trees are yuuuuge. The trail crosses the caldera floor, which is infested with badger burrows. I didn't think to take a picture. Think gophers on steroids.

Like the other ring fracture domes, Cerro La Jara formed from very high-silica lava that oozed out of the ring fracture. Cerro La Jara is virtually the same age as South Mountain, 530,000 years, and was formed from a single eruptive pulse.

Cerro la Jara rhyolite

Here you see some rhyolite boulders on the slope of the dome. The layers of lava are clearly visible under all the lichen. Such flow banding is a frequent feature of rhyolite flows.

A view back to the visitor's center from atop that knoll, showing part of the Valle Grande from a different angle.

North ring domes from Cerro la Jara

The mountains on the skyline to center and right are the Sierra de los Valles. All are underlain by Tschicoma Formation dacites and rhyodacites. The rounded peak to the right is Cerro Grande, and at center is Pajarito Mountain. The nearer mountain on the left is Cerro del Medio, the youngest of the ring fracture domes.

The forested area extending southeast of Cerros del Medio is one of the oldest flows from this vent and has been very precisely dated as 1.21 million years old. This was just 40,000 years after the Valles event. However, most of Cerros del Medio is younger than the southern and western flows, with an age of about 1.17 million years.

Here is a close up of the rhyolite, with a quarter dollar for scale:

Cerro la Jara rhyolite up

It looks a lot like Bandelier Tuff, which is not surprising given that the composition is almost exactly the same. However, rhyolite is much harder, since it formed from liquid lava rather than from a cloud of partially solidified lava fragments.

Or, at least, it may have formed from liquid lava. As I mentioned in earlier chapters, there's a school of thought that rhyolite like this is really just extremely densely welded tuff.

Here's some boulders sticking up above the southern side of the dome:

Layered boulders

It's interesting that the layers in the rock almost match the slope of the ground.

This shot shows an eroded cliff face on the south side of the dome:

Eroded cliff in Cerro la Jara

You can see the many layers of flows and their inclination around a central axis. If these were sedimentary beds, this would be described as an anticline; I'm not sure the term is used in vulcanology.

Extremely viscous rhyolite magma could not have formed such thin flows by extruding from a vent. The dome is clearly an endogenous dome, such as I described earlier in the book. The dome grows from magma injected into its center from a vent, with a semisolid layer near its surface that is stretched into thin layers as the dome expands. The outermost surface of the dome was originally mantled with solid rhyolite debris, long since eroded away.

The amenities:

The amenities

This hike was a unique experience in that I was not only not told to stay on the trail, but was actually encouraged to avoid any kind of trail. The Valles Preserve doesn't want a beaten path here. On the down side, this meant some stickers in my socks. People being how they are, you can see that a faint trail is starting to be beaten into the grass at the left.

The Golf Course Alluvium

Older geologic maps of the Los Alamos area show almost the entire town site underlain by Tsherige Member, Bandelier Tuff. This is not wrong, but construction in the town often exposes thinly bedded deposits of pumice and sediments overlying the Tsherige Member. These are mapped on the most recent geologic maps as "old alluvium", and they have been informally named the Golf Course Alluvium, since these beds are particularly thick at Los Alamos Municipal Golf Course. However, a superb and easily accessible exposure is found in a driveway cut for an apartment complex on Canyon Road in Los Alamos.

Golf Course
Golf Course Alluvium. 35 49.299N 106 28.299W

The Golf Course Alluvium has been interpreted as a fluvial deposit from before the current system of canyons was incised in the Los Alamos area. The sediments include considerable quantities of reworked pumice erupted from the Cerro del Medio dome, which is directly west of the golf course.

A Crater Lake

Digital relief map of lake deposit exposures in the
        Jemez Mountains
Relief map of the Jemez with lake bed deposits highlighted in red.

A young caldera creates a topographic depression in which meteoric water (water derived from rain or snow) can accumulate. Crater Lake in Oregon is a superb example, but Yellowstone Lake is the largest of several lakes in the Yellowstone caldera, and Lake Toba and Lake Taal are other examples of lakes in large calderas. The Valles Caldera likewise was filled by a lake shortly after its formation, which was drained after the Jemez River eroded through the rim of the caldera to form Cañon de San Diego. The lake returned at least twice when dome eruptions (of San Antonio Mountain and South Mountain) blocked the river channel. Another deep lake formed sometime before 800,000 years ago, and the most recent lake was formed after the El Cajete eruptions 55,000 years ago. Lake deposits are found across the caldera floor, along with phreatomagmatic tuffs like those we saw at the Warm Springs dome in the previous chapter.

The Valle Grande itself is a former lake bed, and it is the thick layers of fine sediments that accumulated on this lake that partially account for the lack of forest cover. Shallow-rooted grasses are able to take hold, but the thick clay layers are impenetrable to tree roots. Another important factor is the tendency for cold air to accumulate in the low terrain during times when it lacks snow cover to protect small saplings.

The lake deposits take two forms. The first are phreatomagmatic tuff beds like those we saw at Warm Dome. The other kind of lake deposit is lake bars, which are benches of sediments that once accumulated around the edges of the lake. Some of these, particularly from the earliest lakes, are well cemented, while the younger beds tend to be less well consolidated.

The original lake

The first and likely deepest lake formed immediately after the caldera collapsed. The water filling this lake was locally hot but neither acidic nor lifeless, for freshwater diatom fossils are found in some of the sedimentary beds deposited in this lake. Examples of these beds are found throughout the caldera.

One such set of beds is found in Valle Jaramillo, next to the megabreccia block we saw earlier.

Megabreccia and lake deposits

Early lacustrine beds

Early lacustrine beds. 35 54.626N 106 31.899W


You can see some thinly bedded layers of reworked ash at the bottom and a darker conglomerate at top. These beds remind me of nothing so much as the Abiquiu Formation. This is unsurprising, given that the Abiquiu Formation is also reworked volcanic ash, albeit much older.

These beds are strongly indurated. Considering that they were laid down in hot water saturated with silica, this is not terribly surprising. The beds also dip significantly to the northeast. This suggests they were laid down before resurgence was complete; that is, within 37,000 years of the Valles event.

Another outcrop of early lake deposits is found in the northwest corner of the caldera, where they are exposed along San Antonio Creek just inside the western boundary of the Valles preserve.

Early lacustrine deposits

Early lacustrine deposits along San Antonio Creek. 35 57.918N 106 37.038W

Some of the beds have the appearance of well indurated sandstone.

Lacustrine beds

Some clasts are so heavily silicified that they could easily be mistaken for Pedernal Chert of the Abiquiu Formation.

Silicified lake
          bed sediments

Abiquiu Formation is, in fact, found nearby. A careful check of the GPS coordinates against the geologic map is required to confirm that this outcrop is mapped as very early lake sediments. Additional beds are found south of San Antonio Creek further up stream:

Early lacustrine beds

Early lacustrine beds. Looking south from 35 58.050N 106 36.789W

The first lake was partially displaced by the rise of the resurgent dome, then mostly drained as the ancestral Jemez River cut through the caldera rim at what is now the mouth of Cañon de San Diego.

There is still active research and debate on just how deep and long-lasting the original lake was. There are indications that the lake was very deep indeed. One such is what appears to be a wave-cut bench high on the south slopes of Cerros del Abrigo.

wave terrace

Wave-cut terrace?. Looking east from 35 54.921N 106 30.177W

The low bench is interpreted by some geologists as a surface cut by waves of a crater lake. This lake could not be older than Cerros del Abrigo, but it is difficult to put a lower limit on its age. The current estimate is that the lake that cut these terraces filled the caldera around 800,000 years ago and lasted over 100,000 years.

Felsic phreatomagmatism

The Warm Springs dome shows indications of wave terracing on its south flank, but its north flank is partially buried in phreatomagmatic deposits from Cerro Seco. These are beds of small rock fragments produced when lavas from Cerro Seco came into contact with the lake that filled this part of the caldera 0.78 million years ago, with explosive results. The phreatomagmatic beds are well exposed on the north part of the dome.

Phreatomagmatic beds at Warm Springs
Hydromagmatic beds on north side of Warm Springs dome. 35 58.340N 106 33.702W

Because this is on the Valles Preserve, I could take no samples. However, the beds here resemble the maar beds of the Cerros del Rio that we saw in the last chapter. The chief difference is that surface water rather than groundwater was involved here, and the lava was high-silica rhyolitic magma rather than low-silica basaltic magma.

Near the top of the dome, the phreatomagmatic beds give way to large broken pieces of rhyolite, presumably from the Warm Springs dome itself.

Clasts atop Warm Springs
Warm Springs Dome. 35 58.298N 106 33.728W

San Antonio Lake

The caldera again became filled with a lake or series of stream-connected lakes with the eruption of San Antonio Mountain 560,000 years ago, whose flows ponded against the western rim of the caldera. By this time hydrothermal activity in the caldera was diminished enough that this was likely a clear mountain lake whose sediments were less heavily cemented by silica from the lake water. However, the bars and terraces that formed around the lake are still discernible.

There is an example of a very large lake bar in the foreground in the third of the moat panoramas we saw earlier. Here's a closer view.

San Antonio lake
San Antonio lake deposits. Looking northwest from 35 57.479N 106 31.134W

The material here was deposited by Lake San Antonio. When the lava dam was finally eroded through by San Antonio Creek, the lake drained and further erosion shaped the terraces here.

Please don't go around telling folks I've been hanging out at a San Antonio bar without providing the full explanation.

The erosion of San Antonio Creek along the boundary between the caldera rim and the San Antonio Rhyolite produced the spectacular walls of San Antonio Canyon.

West caldera rim across from San Antonio Springs

Caldera rim across from San Antonio Springs. 35 56.387N 106 38.741W

We saw this in the last chapter.

Here’s San Antonio Creek, the agent of that erosion.

San Antonio

Seems pretty harmless, no? They say it’s always the little guy you have to look out for.

South Mountain Lake

South Mountain was erupted very shortly after San Antonio Mountain, producing a lake in the Valle Grande that lasted at least 170,000 years. This period included at least two full glacial-interglacial cycles of the current ice age. Geologists have drilled cores in the Valles Grande to obtain pollen counts and isotope measurements that will help us better understand long-term natural climate change in the Jemez area.

The final known intracaldera lake was produced by the eruption of the El Cajete Formation, which we will examine more closely later in the book.

Next page: Shaping today's landscape

Copyright © 2015 Kent G. Budge. All rights reserved.