USGS Logo Geological Survey Bulletin 613
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part C. The Santa Fe Route

Elevation 6,456 feet.
Kansas City 678 miles.

From Dillon (see sheet 11, p. 66), 3 miles from Raton, a branch road extends up Dillon Canyon, in the mesa west of Raton, to coal mines at Blossburg and Brilliant. These mines were developed mainly to supply fuel for the railway and for many years yielded the greater part of the coal produced in the Raton field. Coke ovens at Gardiner, 3 miles southwest of Raton, still produce a large amount of coke, used in smelters in the Southwest. From Raton southward for many miles the mesa of Trinidad sandstone and overlying coal-bearing rocks is a prominent feature of the view.

SHEET No. 11
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Elevation 6,378 feet.
Kansas City 680 miles.

Southwest of Otero (o-tay'ro), a siding 5 miles beyond Raton, the face of the mesa west of the railway is very precipitous, because it is formed of thick sheets of hard, igneous rock (basalt), which were intruded into the coal-bearing rocks in a molten condition. The heat of these intrusions has changed the coal into graphite in many places in an area of several square miles. These highlands culminate in Red River Peak, a prominent pinnacle 3 miles southwest of Otero, which in the early days of exploration served as an easily recognized landmark for the "prairie schooners" traveling the Santa Fe Trail. This trail, after passing through Raton Pass, came down the mesa a short distance north of Red River Peak, passed south near its foot, and went thence southwestward to Cimarron. The peak owes its prominence to the presence of a chimney-like mass of hard intrusive rock forced into the shale in a state of fusion. Beyond Otero the route crosses the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain & Pacific Railway, a line 94 miles long that lies wholly in New Mexico.

Elevation 6,156 feet.
Kansas City 687 miles.

A mile southeast of Hebron is a large storage reservoir covering 7,000 acres, to supply water to an extensive irrigated area about Maxwell. East of Hebron and Dorsey there are great masses of volcanic rocks constituting widespread platforms of moderate height, surmounted in places by high ridges and peaks, some of which were originally active volcanoes. One of the most conspicuous of these cones is Eagletail Peak, due east of Dorsey. Laughlin and Tinaja peaks are other prominent summits farther east. The sheet of dark lava lies on the soft Pierre shale, and at some places its margin presents a cliff showing more or less columnar structure. This cliff exists because in most places the original thin margin of the lava flow has been removed by erosion and the thick mass of lava, with its characteristic columnar structure is exposed.

In the region extending from Raton Mesa to these volcanic peaks there has been prolonged volcanic activity in several separate epochs. The caps on the high mesas are remnants of the earliest flows, poured out before the surrounding lowlands had been excavated. After these outflows ceased erosion progressed, developing valleys and cutting away a portion of the earlier lava sheets. Then followed eruptions of lava, mostly from new vents, which spread out over the lower lands. This was repeated at least three times, and between successive outflows the valleys were considerably deepened. The last eruptions were very recent, for they closed with the building of cinder cones that are still steep-sided and have central craters apparently as fresh as if they had just cooled off. Eagletail and other smaller cones are visible from the railway; others can not be seen, but the largest, Mount Capulin, is only 20 miles east of Hebron.

Elevation 5,885 feet.
Kansas City 691 miles.

Elevation 6,063 feet.
Population 395.*
Kansas City 701 miles.

From Hebron to and beyond Dorsey the line of cliffs to the west continues to be a conspicuous feature. As explained above, these cliffs mark the outcrop of the Trinidad sandstone at the base of the coal-bearing rocks. They gradually trend away toward the southwest, however, and near Maxwell are 15 miles from the Santa Fe line.

Several railways that lead to the coal fields beyond the cliffs on the west cross the Santa Fe line south of Raton. One from Dillon to Blossburg and another south of Otero have been mentioned; a third goes from Hebron to Van Houten, and the fourth is a branch of the El Paso & Southwestern system, which crosses at French, affording an outlet from the extensive mines and coke ovens at Dawson. In the Stag Canyon mine at Dawson, on October 22, 1913, occurred one of the most disastrous coal-mine explosions ever known in the West, causing the death of 263 men. This happened in a completely equipped mine, in which all precautions had been taken by the management, but disregard of regulations by the miners caused coal dust to become ignited, and an extensive explosion followed.

Elevation 5,784 feet.
Kansas City 706 miles.

The valley followed by the railway from Dillon to French is that of Canadian River, which rises in the hills west of Raton and flows into Red River in southern Oklahoma. This stream was originally called Red River, on the supposition that it was the head of the Red River of Louisiana and Arkansas, a mistake finally rectified through explorations by Capt. Marcy, who discovered that the headwaters of the much shorter but so-called main branch of Red River are far to the southeast, in northwestern Texas.

The Canadian River valley is broad from Otero southward because it is excavated in the soft Pierre shale, which crops out in a wide zone across this portion of northern New Mexico. This shale is exposed here and there in shallow cuts along the railway. South of French the Timpas limestone is crossed, but its outcrop is hardly noticeable from the trains. From this point southward are shales which probably represent the upper formation (Apishapa shale) of the Niobrara group.

Elevation 5,768 feet.
Population 550.
Kansas City 715 miles.

The town of Springer is built on the north bank of Cimarron Creek, a running stream of moderate size, which rises in the Rocky Mountains 35 miles west. This creek is an entirely different stream from Cimarron River, which rises a few miles east of Raton and flows though Oklahoma. Cimarron Creek passes through the village of Cimarron, on the Santa Fe Trail 20 miles northeast of Springer, and empties into Canadian River a few miles east of Springer.

A short distance below the juncture of Cimarron Creek and Canadian River is the beginning of the long, deep canyon which the Canadian cuts into the Dakota sandstone and underlying red beds. The water of the Cimarron, which has an average volume of 14 to 25 second-feet, is used for the irrigation of 30,000 acres in the wide plains from Springer west to Cimarron Village. Formerly this region was entirely devoted to the cattle industry; now it is producing large crops of alfalfa, wheat, beans, potatoes, corn, oats, barley, and peas. Its fruit season begins in July with cherries, continues with apricots, plums, peaches, and pears, and ends in October with apples.

A short distance south of Springer there are extensive exposures of the Timpas limestone in stream and railway cuts. Some years ago an attempt was made to utilize this rock for the manufacture of cement, but the project was not successful, and the old kilns are all that remain of the enterprise. The limestone is in beds mostly from 6 to 20 inches thick, alternating with thin layers of black shale. The rocks contain marine shells that are distinctive of the deposits of that period in this part of the intracontinental seas.1

1 In this region the Timpas limestone is underlain by 250 feet of unmistakable Carlile shale, extending to the top of characteristic Greenhorn limestone, which is extensively exposed in the banks of Cimarron Creek a few miles east of Springer. There are cuts in Timpas limestone at intervals as far south as milepost 704, where 6 feet of beds are exposed in layers i2 to 18 inches thick.

To the south and west of this place are extensive exposures of overlying shales supposed to represent the Apishapa shale. They give rise to low but conspicuous buttes to the west and finally grade up into well-defined Pierre shale.

Elevation 5,971 feet.
Population 103.*
Kansas City 721 miles.

Elevation 5,924 feet.
Population 224.*
Kansas City 725 miles.

At Rayado the front of a high mesa is conspicuous about 8 miles west of the railway. It is capped by lava (basalt) and is an outlying portion of a widespread sheet of lava that caps the broad mesa or plateau to the south and west.

South of Colmor the line gradually approaches the east end of this plateau and at Wagon Mound passes though a gap in it. The mesas in this vicinity are not as high as those at Raton Pass, but as they rise several hundred feet above the adjoining plains they are prominent topographic features. Near Wagon Mound the lava is at two levels, representing two stages of outflow, but that at the lower level is of small extent. The lava covering the higher mesas came from vents to the west, probably in large part from the Ocate (o-cah'tay) volcanic cone, the location of which is shown on sheet 11 (p. 66).

Wagon Mound.
Elevation 6,177 feet.
Population 1,983.*
Kansas City 741 miles.

Wagon Mound is one of the old settlements on the Cimarron branch of the Santa Fe Trail, which came southwestward from a point near Dodge, Kans. Two monuments a few rods east of the railway station show the line of the old highway. This branch of the trail crossed the line of the railway a short distance south of the station and passed southwestward to Fort Union, where it joined the other branch, which came through Raton and Cimarron and over the volcanic mesa west of Colmor and Wagon Mound. For a long time there was a Mexican customhouse at this place. Its name is derived from the resemblance of one of the peaks near by to a wagon top, when seen from points far to the northeast.

The relations of the two lava sheets are well exposed about Wagon Mound. The higher sheet reaches many miles west and northwest, as well as along the top of the narrow ridge extending 11 miles east of the village. This sheet is about 100 feet thick and lies on a platform of Pierre shale that was originally the floor of the valley down which the lava flowed. Subsequent erosion has cut away the adjoining lands to much lower levels and considerably diminished the extent of the lava sheet by undermining its edges. These edges now present steep cliffs, in places exhibiting columnar structure and having at their bases talus or piles of loose fragments. The softness of the underlying shale greatly facilitates the breaking down of the edges of the lava sheets, and in places there are extensive landslides where huge slivers of the hard lava have been let down in this way.

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Last Updated: 28-Nov-2006