Soda Dam

I visited Soda Dam on a day of hiking in the Jemez, New Mexico area.  Mineral-laden hot water rises to the surface from deep in the earth, where it has been heated.  The spring releases minerals to form the Soda Dam.  The formation is fifty feet high and 300 feet long, and is still growing.  The Soda Dam formation is right beside NM 4.  It originally was much larger, but road crews in the 1950s cut through the original formation.

Soda Dam from the Downstream Side

Soda Dam does not actually block the movement of the Jemez River. The river has cut through the formation, creating a small waterfall. This photo was taken in the spring, just after a rain. That combined with snowmelt resulted in higher than normal water flow.

Calcium carbonate that precipitates from solution, typically found at hot springs like this one, forms a crystalline limestone known as travertine.  Soda Dam is not formed from the water in the Jemez River.  Instead, there is a hot spring that is building the formation.  You can see the deposits forming on the upstream side of the dam, and inside the cave.

Travertine is formed when dissolved carbon dioxide escapes from water as the pressure and temperature drop, causing the calcium carbonate to precipitate out as travertine limestone. Here you can see the travertine forming on the upstream side of Soda Dam.

The downstream side of Soda Dam has a shallow cave. Inside you can see the buildup of limestone as calcium-laden water drips onto the formation.

About the Photos

These photos were taken with my iPhone, because my regular camera was with my daughter on her Senior class trip. There is not much that can be controlled on the iPhone camera — the focus is fixed, the aperture is fixed, and the camera picks its own exposure. A little cropping in iPhoto and that’s it.

There are more pictures available in my Picasa web album. Click on the slide show below to see all the picture from my day trip to the Jemez Mountains.

Related Links

Soda Dam, Santa Fe National Forest – USDA Forest Service

Forest Service describing Soda Dam and related recreational activities.

Soda Dam, Lunar and Planetary Institute

Soda Dam has been used to study ways of detecting life on Mars.

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