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 V.20 No.19 | May 12 - 18, 2011 

Feature

7 Natural Wonders

This land is our land

Julia Minamata juliaminamata.com

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

nps.gov/cave/index.htm

We can tell you all kinds of amazing tidbits about Carlsbad Caverns, like how the limestone rock that encases the network of more than 110 caves is teeming with fossils of ocean plants and animals from a time that predates dinosaurs. Or how scientists studying extremophiles—referred to commonly as “super bugs,” they’re microorganisms that exist against all odds in brutal conditions—in one of said caves are using the microbes to try to find a cure for cancer. Or how if you go at dusk, you can sit in an outdoor amphitheater and watch about half a million bats fly out of the caves for their nightly hunting. But possibly the best thing about the caverns is just how astoundingly beautiful they are. Wandering through the myriad underground rooms, speckled and stretched with stalactites and stalagmites millions of years old, is like being ushered into a dark fairy-tale castle. (Christie Chisholm)

Valles Caldera National Preserve

vallescaldera.gov

The air is fresher here. The colors are more saturated. Eighty-nine thousand acres sweep out like an ocean tide from Redondo Peak. It’s incredible that such a pure place, marked by a singular sense of untouched isolation, is just beyond the Jemez on the back road to Los Alamos. Those not content to sit quietly and take it all in can reserve a spot for hunting, fishing, horseback riding or hiking. In the winter, there’s snowshoeing, skiing and sleigh rides. However you experience it, you’ll feel like you’re the only person in the whole place. (Laura Marrich)

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

on.doi.gov/TentRocks

Hiking to the top of a mesa on one of the trails here reveals a staggering view, unlike anything else in this world. Humongous teepee-shaped rocks, formed by volcanoes spewing pumice and ash, tower over the valley like skyscrapers. Over the years, hard boulders in some spots protected the soft stuff underneath and, as the elements wore down the landscape, the gigantic cones emerged. Hike through shady, super-narrow gaps in the rock on a short trail, or trek up top to the longer path above. (Summer Olsson)

White Sands National Monument

nps.gov/whsa/index.htm

Two hundred and seventy-five square miles of pure white gypsum. Emerging from the Tularosa Basin like some mythical land, it’s the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Much of it belongs to the military, which runs White Sands Missile Range on its sloping hills, but 115 square miles of it is open to the public for beachy frolicking. (Christie Chisholm)

Carrizozo Malpais

bit.ly/CarrizozoBadLands

The floor is lava! No, really, it is. Also known as the Valley of Fires, there are 125 square miles of hardened basaltic lava flows, which are visible from space. The rugged badlands resulted from an eruption at Little Black Peak at least a thousand years ago, which poured lava into the Tularosa Basin. This harsh field of dark, buckled and jagged rock reveals some of New Mexico’s most fascinating facts, the most obvious being our tumultuous volcanic past. Much of the Land of Enchantment’s scenery owes its birth to fire. Bursting forth from bare rock is an endless display of life. Mesquite, yucca, prickly pear cactus, sage and brilliantly flowering jimson weed provide food, water and shelter to a multitude of birds, deer, rabbits and reptiles—proving that a desert is so much more than a pile of sand. (Maren Tarro)

Otero Mesa

oteromesa.org

This sprawling grassland is a slice of the Chihuahuan Desert, southeast of Alamogordo and west of Carlsbad. One of the last and largest grasslands left in the United States, it’s a petroglyph-covered ecological epicenter, home to more than 200 kinds of migratory songbirds and more than 1,000 native wildlife species, including bald eagles. It’s also perched atop the Salt Basin Aquifer, thought to be the largest unspoiled water source in the state. Most importantly, it’s mother-frakking gorgeous. (Christie Chisholm)

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

on.doi.gov/BistiBadLands

Awesomely alien, chalk-white columns surge like monsoon waves in this desolate badlands. While there’s not a lot of shade to go around, a majestic tumble of silt, shale, mudstone, coal, sandstone and fossils are an amateur geologist's dream. (“Bisti” is Navajo for “cranes,” while “de-na-zin” succinctly translates to “a large area of shale hills.”) The natural sculpture gardens, seated about 30 miles south of Farmington, is embedded with primitive campgrounds. (Laura Marrich)

 

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3rd Annual Fright Night at New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

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