The dominant features of Central New Mexico are the Rio Grande, the Sandia Mountains, the Manzano Mountains, the Jemez Mountains, the volcanic escarpment west of the river, and the Estancia Basin.
Sandias & Manzanos
The Sandias, produced by volcanic activity and erosion, are about 20-miles in length. There are two distinct peaks - North Sandia Peak, 10,678 feet, and South Sandia Peak, 9,782 feet. In between is a feature called a "saddle." The saddle is known as Sandia Crest. The Manzanos stretch south for 40 miles from Tijeras Canyon to U.S. 60. Its summits are the 10,098-foot Manzano Peak and the 10,003-foot Osha Peak. Neither range is part of the Rocky Mountains; they were formed much later as the result of a different process.
The Rio Grande originates in Colorado, flows down the middle of New Mexico, and veers through Texas before reaching the Gulf. Because the river meandered over a wide floodplain, flooding became a problem after Spanish settlers established farms along the river. Flood control began in 1925 with the creation of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. In time a network of dams, drains and diversion channels confined the Rio Grande. Along the river lies the longest contiguous cottonwood forest in North America. In New Mexico, this valley treasure is known as "The Bosque."
The remains of volcanic activity along an escarpment on Albuquerque's West Mesa can be seen in six volcanic cones - actually only five now, since one cone has disappeared because it was mined for scoria (red lava rock).
Violent volcanic activity created the Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico. It is one of the state's most prominent mountain ranges, encompassing 1,300 square miles. One of the most significant features is the bowl-shaped Valles Caldera, created in one volcanic explosion of such force that it showered materials as far away as Kansas. The highest point in the range is 11,561-foot Chicoma Mountain. Redondo Peak, the second highest peak at 11,254 feet is in the middle of the Valles Caldera.
Alongside the Manzano Mountains, in the Estancia Basin, there was once a lake about 50-miles long and 23-miles wide. The water grew salty over time from evaporation. The basin dried up about 8,000 years ago. What remained was a series of playa lakes surrounded by gypsum and clay dunes, along with salt beds that were mined by early Pueblo Indians, as well as later Spanish and American settlers. The playa lakes vary in size from just a few acres in length to several miles.
Weather & Climate
The climate varies with elevation, but most of the region is semi-arid, with abundant sunshine, low humidity, and about 10 inches of annual precipitation. Temperatures range from 92-65 Fahrenheit in July to 47-23 Fahrenheit in January, with an average of 304 sunny days per year.
Visit Regional Data for a more detailed report of historical and future statistics on the region, including population, age, race, education, housing, etc.