Way out in the middle of nowhere New Mexico is a very interesting little State Park called “City of Rocks”. This State Park is basically a group of impressive stone extrusions that were created 35 million years ago when volcanic ash or “tuff” was fused together. Over the eons these towers and buttresses have been eroded by wind and rain into the interesting shapes and groups of stone that you see there today.
I have explored this place on several occasions but one visit in particular I drive out there from El Paso late at night in order to just get away from the city. To get there, head west out of Las Cruces, New Mexico on Interstate 10 to the town of Demming. Exit at Demming and head north on US Highway 180 for 24 miles until you come to the junction with NM Highway 61. Turn right and east and follow this road for about 4 miles and you will see the turn off for “City of Rocks” State Park.
Turn left and follow this road to the park entrance. Make sure that you get whatever supplies you may need in Demming before heading north because this State Park is a very lonely place with no supplies available per se. It was a mild night when I visited the park and it was perfectly clear. There were billions of stars on display out there on the New Mexico prairie.
The park itself is comprised of 1,230 acres and is at an elevation of 5,250 feet. It receives only 16 inches of rain per year but due to the nature of the rock formations, the way they channel and pool water and the shade they provide, there is an interesting assortment of plant life found among the rocks. Back in ancient times the Mimbres Indians frequented the area and later the Chiricahua Apache did as well. I like to imagine that outlaws and fugitives bought refuge in the rocks but I'm not sure if they did or not.
I am sure that cowboys while working the range utilized the rocks as a camp spot and they must have enjoyed beautiful, moonlit desert nights such as the one I did with nothing but the sound of the crackling camp fire and nothing but numberless stars overhead with an occasional streak of a shooting star across the sky.
The moon was very bright this night and it was quite warm even though there was still a bit of snow on the far off high peaks of the Mogollon. The setting of the rocks is pretty amazing. It is all treeless prairie with cactus and lonely yucca here and there. Then, all of a sudden, this compact group of extruded rocks juts up out of the prairie in a very unexpected manner.
What is more unexpected is what you will find in between the rocks. There is a remnant forest of Alligator Juniper living in between the rocks in the crevasses and shadowy places. These trees are interesting because there are no trees for miles and miles across the prairie, the rocks are the only reason they can survive here.
These trees provide habitat for different birds, squirrels and rabbits. In the fall they change colors with the season and they are very pretty contrasted against the rocks. One of the most amazing things about this place has to be they sky though. Due to the fact that it is so far from Demming, Silver City and Las Cruces, there is no light pollution of the sky from civilization making for quite the mural across the heavens.
The State Park recognized this fact and installed a tiny Astronomical Observatory with a 14 “Meade LX 200 Telescope and there is a 20 inch monitor in the visitor's center that allows you to see images produced on the telescope. I just slept in the back of my truck at one of the available camp spots.
I got up early before the sun while the moon moon still hung high in the pre dawn sky. It was an enjoyable thing to listen to the morning sounds, breathe the cool air and walk among and on the rocks of the park. I noticed cotton tail rabbits running about and hear the chirps of different birds singing and then the sky grew orange on the eastern horizon and the sun finally came up as I topped out on the ridge to the east of the park at the end of a 1.5 mile trail to a prominence where there are panels describing points distant on the horizon.
City of Rocks State Park is a great place to take children as they can have fun exploring in the rocks, camping, hiking and marveling at the night sky. There are 62 camp sites and 10 with electric hookups. There are restrooms and showers at the visitor's center. Gate hours are from 7am to 9pm but since this place is quite remote, inquire on the web at http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/PRD/cityrocks.htm
Or call them at 575.536.2800 to make sure that you will be able to gain access to the park. This is a really interesting location from a geologic and astronomical standpoint so if you are ever in Silver City or Demming, make some time for City of Rocks.