International and generational connections at the City of Rocks

  • The City of Rocks from above.

The first view I have of the City of Rocks immediately reminds me of the trip Tom and I took to Stonehenge in England. But man had no hand in the striking formations that rise out of the New Mexico desert.

This geological oddity is the result of volcanic ash spewed out 30 million years ago, piled up, buried and pressed into rock, then pushed back to the surface, where wind and water carved it into wild looking obelisks, teetering sculptures and mushroomlike stands.

And unlike Stonehenge, you can climb all over the rocks and camp close enough to touch them. We scrambled over, around and through the formations, cruising through the “avenues” formed on the interior portions of the hill of stone.

Then we took the Hydra Walking Trail, a 3.25 mile loop that circles the “City” at a distance, giving you beautiful views that with each new turn surprise you again with how out of place the formation appears. At a couple of spots along the trail, you can see miniature formations, additional little volcanic burps, that only deepen your appreciation of the huge City.

At one point on the trail, I spied a large burrow, and waved down a park ranger giving someone a tour on a golf cart.

“I’ve got to take a look at this,” he said, enthusiastically, with a heavy Australian accent, and jumped from the cart.

“Wow, this is an American beaver,” he said, his voice registering awe. “Great find.”

I glowed in his misplaced praise, for I had practically tripped on it just beside the trail, not having to use any real sleuthing skills.

“I was up here yesterday and this wasn’t here,” my new best friend said. “This is fresh.”

He went on to explain that the American beaver (We’ll just call him, Joe) didn’t have to live in water and was a pretty big guy, 25-70 pounds, which is what required such a large burrow.

Just as I was getting into the conversation of the American beaver with the Aussie ranger, his walkie-talkie crackled and he was called back to the office, bouncing off on his cart down the rocky trail.

When I called my sister to describe the City of Rocks, she told me that our grandparents, who had traveled summers in a little camper trailer, had visited there and brought us souvenirs. I had no memory of it, which is often the case of these childhood happenings, partly because Nancy is 18 months older than me, and partly, I think, because she was more attentive.

“I can’t exactly remember,” Nancy said. “They were little bags of rocks, I think. And there were pictures. I definitely remember it.”

As we backed The Epic Van in between the huge boulders for the night, dark clouds rushed forward and rain began pounding on the metal roof. Inside, we peered out at the sheets of water bouncing off the boulders, and I marveled at the eerie feeling of walking that day where my grandparents had walked more than 40 years ago over ash millions of years old.

I wondered if Joe was getting wet.

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