Wandering on an Amazing Mesa in New Mexico

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As mentioned many times in this blog, a basic tenet of the Gentle Art of Wandering is that you’ll find something special every time you wander even in the most unsuspecting of places. A good example of this is a mesa in the backcountry about forty miles or so southwest of Albuquerque.

The mesa itself is generally 300 feet tall and approximately ten miles in length. Its width varies from one to three miles. From a geologic point of view, the mesa has a volcanic lava cap (basalt) with an underlying base of sedimentary rock (typically limestone). There is an extinct volcano at the south end of the mesa and much of the limestone has been transformed into travertine.

The ownership of the mesa is a checkerboard of public (Bureau of Land Management) and private ranch land. The portion of the mesa on public land is open for you to explore.

As you can see, there is nothing particularly special to notice about the mesa.

As you can see, there is nothing that immediately grabs you as particularly special when you approach the mesa from the east. You’ll have to do some exploring to discover its specialness.

I have visited the mesa many many times over the past several years and am always finding something new and special. I first went to the area with my archaeology wandering partner, Bob Julyan to look for archaeology sites as Bureau of Land Management volunteers. Because the soil on the mesa top does not lend itself to farming, we never found an extensive cluster of archaeological sites on the mesa. The lack of site density did not discourage us exploring the mesa or stopped us from making amazing discoveries.

When you get to the top, you'll run into plenty of grazing land and might find a quiet place to spend the day. The volcano at the south end of the mesa is off in the distance.

When you reach the top, you’ll run into plenty of grazing land and might find a quiet place to spend the day. That’s the volcano at the south end of the mesa off in the distance.

If you walk to the west side of the mesa, you'll run into some spectacular views.

If you walk to the west side of the mesa, you’ll run into some spectacular views.

If you come in warmer, you could run into this guy. So watch where you step.

If you come in warmer weather, you could run into this guy. So watch where you step.

And on some days, your quiet will be interrupted. The Air Force Special Forces trains in the area.

And on some days, your quiet might be interrupted by Air Force Special Forces units practicing low-level flying and landings.

You'll never know what you'll find when you look around.

You’ll never know what you’ll find when you look around.

If you look on the ground, you might find a piece of chert that was used by ancient hunters to make points and tools.

As you can tell from the previous photo, the mesa top is a good place for game. And if you look on the ground, you might find an artifact left by a hunter. If you look closely at this picture, you can see a piece of chert used by ancient hunters to make a point or a tool.

Bob found part of Paleo Indian point from 10,000 years ago on the ridge overlooking this playa (dried lake).

My partner, Bob Julyan, found part of Paleo-Indian point from 10,000 years ago on the ridge overlooking this playa (dried lake).

Don't forget to check out the more polished rocks for rock art. This guy looks like a target for a carnival shooting game.

Don’t forget to check out the more polished rocks for rock art. I thought this guy looked like a target for a carnival shooting game.

On parts of the mesa you'll find places where travertine marble was quarried.

In some areas of the mesa you’ll find places where the travertine was close enough to the surface to be quarried for building material.

Here's some leftover travertine.

Here’s some travertine that was never shipped to builders.

I thought their piece of dissolved travertine looked like coral.

I thought this piece of dissolved travertine looked like coral.

I wasn't expecting to find a cave.

I wasn’t expecting to find a cave.

It would be fun to camp out near this cave to see how many bats come out of it at night.

It would be fun to camp out near this cave to watch the bats fly out of it at night.

When I first saw rusted metal like this on the ground, I had no idea what it was. maybe an old bucket or something from a mining operation.

When I first saw rusted metal like this on the ground, I had no idea what it was. I thought it might be an old bucket or an exotic piece of mining equipment.

But then we found several of these.

But when we started finding theses, we checked out Google Earth.

This prompted us to look at Google Earth and we found three bomb targets on the mesa. They were built during World War II to train bomber crews.

When we scanned Google Earth, we found three bomb targets on the mesa. Look for the circles carved into the ground to create a bulls eye. The targets were built during World War II to train bomber crews.

Finding the target circles on the ground proved to be very difficult. They looked like an old jeep road no longer used.

Finding the target circles on the ground proved to be very difficult. They looked like an old jeep roads no longer used. In a few years they will have completely faded away.

If you hike far enough, you might run into these volcanic fissures. It looks like the lava pushed out the fissures rather than flow out of the volcano cone.

If you hike far enough, you might run into these volcanic fissures. The lava must have pushed out the fissures in addition to flowing from the volcano cone.

But the biggest mystery of the mesa are the stacked rock walls on the west slope of the mesa. This particular wall is over a half mile long and encloses a small valley / canyon.

But the mesa’s biggest mystery are several stacked stone walls on the west slope of the mesa. This particular wall is over a half mile long and encloses a small valley / canyon. What was the wall used for? It’s not tall enough and too long to be useful as a corral or defensive enclosure. Do you have any ideas?

The mixture of rock types is proof that the walls were stacked by humans and are not a natural phenomenon.

The mixture of rock types in this section of the wall is proof that the walls were built by humans and are not a natural phenomenon.

As these picture attest, this mesa has much for you to discover and is typical of the adventure that awaits you when you wander. A great thing about wandering is that you can wander anywhere. You can go to a backcountry mesa like this one, but you can also have a similar adventure wandering around your own neighborhood.

5 Comments

  1. Wow! Just think, all of this stuff is out there and no one but you know about it.
    Your pictures not only detail your point, but the are pretty also. What is name of this mesa? I would like to see more of these wild places.
    Rebecca

  2. That snake pic! That’s enough to keep warm weather wandering at bay ;).

  3. The low rock wall is pretty amazing. I have been thinking and wondering and still cannot imagine why it is there.

  4. I wonder if the low row walls are part of the terraces described here for water drainage diversion to farm fields? See this report for more information http://store.wnpa.org/research/petr04-09.pdf

  5. Just wandering through your site…saw ‘mesa’ and had to look. Wasn’t sure where it was until I came to the ‘cave closed’ sign…then I knew…and practice bomb parts confirmed. Took my daughter hiking up there last year. What a great place to wander. There are a number of these targets still visible from WWII training activities. I see them when I’m flying from time to time. Over SW of Clovis I saw a huge swastika created from earth berms. Since this is the Melrose Bombing Range, wandering is probably not a good idea. Given new type targets and proximity to Cannon AFB, it is likely in more than casual use.

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