One of most interesting aspects about metropolitan Albuquerque is the distinctive geological and geographical perspectives that can be observed while traveling through and around the city. In each of the four primary compass directions, the geophysical attributes are noticeably different. To date, this author has not visited another urban area in the United States (especially an inland one) which is set amid such a diverse array of unique landforms. Among them are:
North – Mountains, Rift Valley, Canyons, and Caldera
East – Mountains, Canyons, High Plains and Plateaus
South – Desert, Rift Valley, and Mountains
West – Volcanoes, Mesas, Buttes, Badlands, Mountains and Canyons
As a result of the convergence of these varied landforms, the climate and weather patterns are atypical for such a geographic location. For example, the rain shadows of the Sandia and Monzano Mountains, which buttress the eastern edge of the city proper, fall on the eastern slope of the mountain ranges, while the dry side is on the western slope. This is completely opposite most situations in the Northern Hemisphere and even different that what exists a mere 50 miles away in Santa Fe. Both backdoor cold fronts (moving east to west/southwest) in the winter and the soothing Southwestern monsoon rains of summer primarily drop their moisture on the east side of the Sandia/Monzano Mountains.
Here’s a quick comparison of the average annual rainfall/snowfall on either side of the mountains:
EAST SLOPE — WEST SLOPE
Cedar Crest = 18″/42″ — Albuquerque = 11″/11″
Chilili = 18″/44″ — Belen = 10″/6″
Edgewood = 15″/26″ — Isleta Pueblo = 10″/7″
Golden (NM) = 17″/26″ — Los Lunas = 10″/6″
Tijeras = 18″/44″ — Rio Rancho = 12″/10″
Given the weather, climatic, and geophysical variations, the associated plant and animal life varies and expands the the biodiversity of the region.
Albuquerque is also surrounded on three sides by impressive volcanic geology, including a caldera, craters, stratovolcanes, splatter cones, lava fields, and much more. Valles Caldera to the north; as well as Mount Taylor (dormant volcano), the Albuquerque Volcanic Field, and the Cabezon Peak (volcanic plug) to the west, are just four of the most significant and visible geological features.
Lastly, the fact that the entire Rio Grande Valley through the Albuquerque metropolitan area is part of an enormous Rift Valley separating the Great Plains to the east and Colorado Plateau to the west, adds complexity and uniqueness to the geology and geography of the Albuquerque region.
If you get a chance to visit the Albuquerque area, be sure to take some time to explore the fascinating landforms that exist here. Even a drive along I-40 through the metropolitan area will highlight many of the features as you drop down into the city from the east and rise sharply rise upwards again to the west. Likewise, along I-25, the highway follows the rift valley and showcases mountains to the east and some of the volcanic fields to the west. Either route is a splendid introduction to the unparalleled mix of geophysical landforms converging here in Albuquerque. Enjoy!
Here are couple of interesting books that spotlight the uniqueness of the Albuquerque region. Both are available through Amazon.com.*
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.