Cat Hills Volcanic Field

Location: 34°48' to 34°57', 106°45' to 106°55' W, Bernalillo County
Type: Young basaltic scoria cones and flows located along the central axis of the Rio Grande rift
Age: 0.14 ± 0.038 Ma to ~0.1Ma

Alignment along fissure-like trend; young age


Geological Overview

The Cat Hills are a series of small scoria cones and associated lava flows erupted on the Llano de Albuqueruque (the central floor of the Rio Grande rift and part of Isleta Pueblo lands) around 100,000 years ago. These are arguably the youngest volcanoes within the Rio Grande rift. Many of the cones have been quarried for "cinder" and at least one is completely quarried away.This is unfortunate because the cones are unusual landforms, rather uncommon on the North American continent as a whole.

Wind Mesa is much older (about 4 million years) and is technically not a part of the young Cat Hills eruptions but instead represents earlier basaltic eruptions that took place here.

A view of the Cat Hills volcanic field from the air shows how the cluster of scoria cones aligns in north-south arrangement. Note that the Cat Hills volcanic field, like the Albuquerque volcanoes to the north, are actually situated in the center of the Albuqueruqe Basin section of the Rio Grande rift. Photo L. Crumpler



Aerial view of the quarried North Cone. Many of these cones have been extensively quarried for cinder. Scoria cones as young as those in the Cat Hills are among the rarest landforms on the North American continent. Yet in this example the original cone has been completely removed from the landscape of New Mexico. Photo L. Crumpler



View from the rim of the  South Cat Hills cone looking north along the Cat Hills volcano alignment. Unlike the classic linear fissure morphology of the Albuquerque Volcanoes a few miles to the north, the Cat Hills are a more loosely aligned fissure trend consisting of distinct small scoria cones. Photo L. Crumpler


Wind Mesa is a fairly old (4 million years) sheet of basalt surrounding a small concentration of scoria (in outcrops near the center of this image). The overall structure appears to be that of an eroded and faulted  small shield volcano. It is possible that the Wind Mesa volcano was originally similar to the modern day Albuquerque volcanoes. Another interesting thing here is that a north-south trending graben cuts through the middle of the shield and illustrates the abundance of faulting along the central Rio Grande rift just in the past 4 million years alone. The range of mountains on the horizon in the center distance to the north is actually the rim of the Valles Caldera. On the right are the Sandia Mountains that form the eastern margin of the rift while the green band on the right is the bosque along the Rio Grande. Photo L. Crumpler


View of the south end of the Cat Hills volcanic field from NM Highway 6. Photo L. Crumpler



The southernmost of the Cat Hills volcanic field scoria cones. This cone has a perfectly preserved summit crater, as well as relatively dark and unweathered scoria. Between all the cones in the Cat Hills volcanic area, this is one of the youngest. The state of preservation is similar to cones between 60,000 years and 100,000 years old. Photo L. Crumpler


View Cat Hills Volcanic Field in a larger map

Further Reading

General geology and relation to the Rio Grande rift:
Kelley, V. C., and A. M. Kudo, 1978, Volcanoes and related basalts of Albuquerque basin, New Mexico. New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, Circular 156, 30p.

Petrology and Lithology:
Baldridge, W. S., 1979, Petrology and petrogenesis of Plio-Pleistocene basaltic rocks from the central Rio Grande rift New Mexico and their relationship to the Rift, in Riecker, R. E., editor, Rio Grande Rift: Tectonism and Magmatism, American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C., p. 323-353.

All text and Photos, L. Crumpler, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science 

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