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Throughout the basin, which receives little rainfall, there are sand dunes and dune fields, some vegetated and some active.The Santa Fe group deposits accumulated in the basin between the middle Miocene and early Pliocene, from fifteen to one million years ago.Before entering the basin the river is impounded by the Cochiti Dam, built in 1975.After leaving the basin via Socorro, the river is impounded by the Elephant Butte Reservoir, built in 1916.There is a west-tilting area in the southwestern margin of the basin, but it is just 15 to 30 kilometres (9.3 to 18.6 mi) wide.There were volcanic eruptions throughout the period while the Santa Fe Group sediments were being deposited, and these continued into the late Pleistocene.
The Rio Grande flows south into the Albuquerque Basin between the Sandia and Jemez mountains.
Most of the resulting basalt and andesite rock is on the west side of the basin.
The Albuquerque volcanic field contains volcanoes to the west of the city of Albuquerque that were active as recently as 156,000 years ago.
In this new model, the northern portion is an ENE-facing half-graben, extending further east than had been thought, while the southern portion is an east-facing half graben.
The two are connected by a structural high running in a northwest direction.
Average annual rainfall ranges from 190 millimetres (7.5 in) at Belen to 760 millimetres (30 in) at Sandia Crest.