Geology Landscapes of Valencia County

In the western part of Valencia County, beautiful and distinctive deposits of travertine are mined in several quarries that help support one of the largest travertine operations in the United States.

New Mexico Travertine Corp., based in Belen with its stone-cutting and polishing operations located east of the Belen Regional Airport, has been working the travertine mines for more than 40 years.

Travertine is formed from springs of water rich in carbon dioxide (CO2) rising along faults. As water rises to the surface, the CO2 escapes and travertine is formed by precipitation of calcium carbonate.

Travertine from Valencia County has been used to decorate the Belen City Hall.

The travertine deposits in Valencia County are up to 100-feet thick. As the travertine is formed, small debris and impurities are incorporated in the rock, producing various colors and patterns, giving names like onyx or marble used in the commercial stone world.

Travertine has long been known as construction material, and the Rome Coliseum is made mostly from travertine. Travertine from Valencia County has been used to decorate the Belen City Hall, Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico main campus, the New Mexico State Capitol, also known as the Roundhouse, and numerous other buildings in Albuquerque and around the country.

The abundance of travertine deposits in this area of our county is due to the presence of deep-reaching faults that allow CO2-rich water to rise to the surface. The abundance of CO2 in this area is also suspected to be related to degassing from a deep magma body located under Socorro.

Access to the quarries is restricted, with the roads crossing Isleta Pueblo properties and a private ranch. The New Mexico Travertine processing facility in Belen welcomes anyone — by appointment — to buy pieces of Valencia County travertine for yard decorations or fountains.

(Paul Parmentier, a certified professional geologist retired from California and living in Los Lunas, shares the rich geologic features in Valencia County. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Belgium and a master’s degree in geochemistry from Japan. The Geology Landscapes of Valencia County are featured monthly.)

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Paul Parmentier, guest columnist