A Desert Paradise
How do I explain my affection for the City of Rocks state park in southwest New Mexico? First of all, let me explain my first impressions of the City of Rocks. I had been driving for 20 miles through the surrounding Chihuahuan desert, a relatively flat, featureless plain. My mind was wandering, and I began to wonder, "Where are the rocks? Why am I driving here of all places?" I followed the signs off of US 180 onto NM 61 for a short distance to the entrance of the park. I entered the park, driving west down a sloping hill and I saw a grayish blur in the distance. I figured this to be the place. As I got nearer, I saw that the grayish blur seemed to have taken shape in a collection of a hundreds of uncarved Easter Island Moais, though not uniform at all. I started to get excited. Upon closer inspection, I found a massive collection of what looked like hundreds of giant stone toes sticking out of the ground, ranging from 4 feet to upwards of over 40 ft high. Now I was really excited. The boulders had a variety of shapes and styles, carved through the eons with wind and water. A fantastic collection, and a perfect backdrop for a week of fun.
The city of rocks is a climbers paradise, with hundreds of problems waiting to be invented and climbed. The rock that makes up the boulders is made of a highly compressed volcanic ash, hardened and sharp from erosion. I usually wear leather gloves when I climb, to protect my hands. The erosion has given the rocks many climbing purchases, and it's not too hard to string together enough holds to make it up most of the boulders. I can't help myself, like an addict, I grab my climbing shoes and head out into the boulder field to climb as soon as I park the van at my campsite. Picture a pig in a mud hole, a fox in a hen house, a dog at the hydrant factory, and you'll see my mindset. There are climbing problems EVERYWHERE, to every degree of difficulty. I scout the boulders and climb until my body is exhausted. I love bouldering. There is a Zen-like quality to climbing, my focus is completely on the problem at hand, and I surprise myself after awhile when I seem to come out of the climbing trance standing on top of the boulder problem I was climbing.
I often find myself staring off into the distance. I love the peace of the desert, it's quiet, with only the whispering of the grasses in the dry, westerly breeze, or the call of a songbird somewhere in the distance. There are distant mountains (the mimbres and the cookes ranges), extinct volcanoes, and hillsides that are very easy on the eyes. It's a great place for contemplation. I like it when my only distractions are natural ones: road runners, or other birds, intriguing cloud formations, and rocks to contemplate. After my lunch siesta, I'll sometimes pull out my corncob pipe, and fill it with Uhle's pipe tobacco for an afternoon smoke. It's pleasant, and a fine way to spend the hot hours of the day, relaxing in the shade, taking in the views. I like my relaxed life; too many people are in too much of a hurry for no good reason, as far as I can tell.
City of rocks has New Mexico's first state park observatory. Since it's so far away from any town, it doesn't have any light pollution. It gets really dark at night, allowing excellent viewing of the heavens. They built a telescope building complete with contracting roof, and occasionally have star parties, led by enthusiastic astronomers. I was here for one informal party led by the campground host, and was fortunate enough to see the rings of Saturn, the craters of the moon, Venus, and other star constellations I had never seen before. It was very cool.
I've visited this desert wonderland three times since 2006. On the last night of my last visit there, I had a magical evening on the rocks. My favorite campsite is Corona Australis (#12). From there, I walked up behind my site to the top of the hill and climbed up on top of an easy to climb boulder. The sun was setting, and there was to be a full moon rising not long after the sunset. I wanted to be in a good position take it all in. To the west, the setting sun had left a rainbow of colors, intense and vivid, imprinting itself on my memory. The colors ranged from bright orange where the sun had set near the horizon, radiating out in a half circle to light orange, gold, white gold to pale blue intensifying to blue, royal blue, and a finally a very deep indigo. What a palette of colors! Looking east, the desert scene spread out before me like a dream landscape. In the foreground, a collection of boulders led my field of view to the high grassy hill which dropped down to the valley floor. Far off in the distance were the Cookes Range and the Mimbres mountains. The sky was dark blue of the evening gloam. The sun dried grass of the desert was still visible and pale. In the distance, I heard coyotes calling for the moon, their eerie yips, and barks, and howls seemed to be what the moon was waiting for, and it began to rise, humongous, full and yellow in the eastern desert. Above me, a few stars had started to become visible, and I knew they'd only get more vibrant. I was on a swivel, I'd watch the rising moon for awhile, then would turn around and watch the intense colors of the sunset slowly fading away. I was looking west, when I heard an owl calling off in the distance, "Ho-Ho Hoo Hoo Hoo". Then about 100 feet away, I saw it fly across the color filled sky and land on top of a high boulder. It was perfectly silhouetted against the western sky. It looked like a cat, with a long body, with two ears barely visible off of its head, and that told me it was a great horned owl. I was transfixed for 10 minutes by the scene, before it flew off, and left me alone. I was intensely aware of my world, hyper sensitive to how amazingly beautiful the desert was on this fine evening. I felt fortunate to be here, intoxicated with its desert, and completely rejuvenated in spirit.
The City of Rocks is a special place for me. I love the desert landscape, and the boulders strewn around. I love how peaceful it is, and how relaxed I can get while I'm there. It's one of my favorite places, and I'll be back this March to take it all in once again.