Field-Trip Guide to Continental Arc to Rift Volcanism of the Southern Rocky Mountains—Southern Rocky Mountain, Taos Plateau, and Jemez Mountains Volcanic Fields of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5022-R
By: , and 



The southern Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado preserve the Oligocene to Pleistocene record of North American continental arc to rift volcanism. The 35–23 million year old (Ma) southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field (SRMVF), spectacularly preserved in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado, records the evolution of large andesitic stratovolcanoes to complex caldera clusters, from which at least 22 major ignimbrite sheets (each 150–5,000 cubic kilometers) were erupted. Outflow deposits of the SRMVF preserved along the broadly uplifted northwest flank of the northern Rio Grande rift basin (the San Luis Valley) provide critical structural and temporal constraints on the inception of crustal extension. Coincident with waning stages of SRMVF caldera-forming volcanism (~25.4 Ma), extensional tectonism was accompanied by a transition from bimodal early Miocene to intermediate-composition late Miocene and dominantly basaltic Pliocene rift volcanism of the Taos Plateau in the southern San Luis Basin. Concomitant rift volcanism in the Española Basin and bordering Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico records a similar Miocene eruptive history dominated by intermediate-composition volcanism that transitioned locally to Pliocene rift-related basaltic volcanism of the Cerros del Rio volcanic field and culminated in eruptions of the iconic rhyolitic Pleistocene Bandelier Tuff and formation of the Valles Caldera along the northwestern rift-basin margin.

This 6-day, 7-night field trip will focus, in broadly equal proportions, on rift-related extensional volcanism of the Jemez Mountains and Taos Plateau regions during the first half of the trip, and on caldera-forming volcanism of the southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field during the second half of the trip. The 35-million-year volcanic history of the region highlighted by new geologic mapping, high-resolution geochronology, petrologic, geochemical, and geophysical data facilitates discussion of (1) the magmatic response to the tectonic transition from subducted-slab arc to continental-rift volcanism; (2) the nature and temporal evolution of rift magmas; (3) fault controls on the spatial evolution of rift magmatism; (4) the diversity of continental-arc ignimbrite volcanism and associated lavas; (5) ignimbrite caldera structure and associated intrusions in three-dimension; (6) the role of recycled crystal mush and magmatic cumulates during growth of Cordilleran batholiths; and (7) high-precision geochronologic contributions to interpretation of relations between regional tectonic and volcanic processes. Most stops will be along roads, but there will be moderate hikes on trails of less than 1-hour duration covering 1–2 kilometers (0.6–1.2 miles) with modest elevation gain of <150 meters (<492 feet).

The route will progress in reverse stratigraphic order, starting in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and proceed northward to San Luis Basin and San Luis Hills before turning west to the southeast and central San Juan Mountains. Our last full day takes us to the little-visited and only recently mapped, Bonanza caldera of the northeastern San Juan Mountains and on the final day, we leave the San Luis Valley to briefly explore the Tertiary subvolcanic plutons of the Collegiate Range along the west side of the Arkansas Valley rift valley, en route to Denver.

The authors of all daily contributions acknowledge the helpful reviews by Amy Gilmer and Joe Colgan and thank Christine Chan and Jeremy Havens for assistance with figures, tables, and guidebook text.

Suggested Citation

Thompson, R.A., Turner, K.J., Lipman, P.W., Wolff, J.A., and Dungan, M.A., 2022, Field-trip guide to continental arc to rift volcanism of the southern Rocky Mountains—Southern Rocky Mountain, Taos Plateau, and Jemez Mountains volcanic fields of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5022-R, 346 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Introduction  
  • Day 1—The Jemez Mountains Volcanic Field and Valles Caldera  
  • Day 2—The Southern San Luis Basin and Taos Plateau Volcanic Field  
  • Day 3—The Taos Plateau Volcanic Field and Central San Luis Basin  
  • Days 4–6 Introductory Summary—The Southern Rocky Mountain Volcanic Field  
  • Day 4—The Platoro Caldera Complex  
  • Day 5—The Central San Juan Region  
  • Day 6—Bonanza Caldera  Acknowledgments  References   
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Field-trip guide to continental arc to rift volcanism of the southern Rocky Mountains—Southern Rocky Mountain, Taos Plateau, and Jemez Mountains volcanic fields of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5022
Chapter R
DOI 10.3133/sir20175022R
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Volcano Science Center
Description Report: xix, 346 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Colorado, New Mexico
Other Geospatial Southern Rocky Mountain, Taos Plateau, and Jemez Mountains Volcanic Fields
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details