Badlands Photo


Formation Name: NACIMIENTO

Rock Type(s): Sandstone alternating with Siltstone and Shale


Time of Deposition (in millions of years ago): 65?, 64? to 58

Depositional Environment: Branching river systems and large flood plains

Common Fossils Found: petrified wood, fish scales, early mammals (e.g., primates, dog-sized early hoofed varieties)


Formation Name(s): SAN JOSE

Rock Type(s): Conglomerate, Sandstone, Siltstone, Shale

Geologic Time Period(s): TERTIARY--EARLY EOCENE

Time of Deposition (in millions of years ago): 54 - 38

Depositional Environment: River systems, flood plains, wetlands

Common Fossils Found: Petrified wood, fish scales, crocodiles, giant flightless birds, more advanced mammals (e.g., Eohippus – early precursor of horses)


The Mesa De Cuba Badlands stretch for 10 miles along an amazingly convoluted mesa whose bottom half is formed from the Nacimiento formation and top from the slightly younger San Jose formation. Many deeply penetrating, branching dry washes filled with intricately sculpted formations turn the hike into a visit to an exotic city with winding lanes that pass countless bazaars and side alleyways filled with larger-than-life statues and lavishly decorated buildings. Walking into and out of every wash would involve 4-5 actual miles for each linear mile traveled. Exploring the washes can be challenging as they narrow and become increasingly steep requiring hand over hand climbing. Petrified wood is strewn everywhere in various sized pieces and full-fledged logs. Huge, perfectly round, rust colored stones called iron concretions, some up to 5 feet across, lie scattered like forgotten marbles.

MESA DE CUBA DIRECTIONS — Turn west onto paved NM 197 just south of Cuba village. Follow it around the mesa’s southern edge for about 5.5 miles to a small dirt road on the right. The route heads north for about 4 miles up the mesa’s west side. Public lands extend the whole way so you can stop anywhere the going looks good and hike over to the mesa base.

FOR MORE INFO-- Donna Dudley, Recreation specialist at the Albuquerque BLM office, 761-8700

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A photographic tour of New Mexico’s incredible San Juan Basin Badlands.