Wednesday, December 1, 2010

City of Rocks

In the middle of a grassy plain of desert is City of Rocks State Park.  Yes, another geologic creation formed by a volcanic eruption.  Almost 35 million years ago, the volcano erupted, spewing ash, pumice and hot gas in an explosion 1,000 times greater than that of Mount St. Helens in 1980.  Because of the intense heat during the eruption, the volcanic material compacted to form the dense rock that forms City of Rocks today.  It has eroded along its cooling cracks, or joints, through freeze and thaw action, wind forces, and the effects of vegetation that grow in the cracks between the rocks.  What makes this park unique is that these rocks seem to only be here.  We can't find anyone to tell us why here and nowhere else.  Dolores, with your Ph.D in Geology, and I know you studied volcanology (or was that Vulcanology?), we're putting you on the case.
Marilyn sleeping in a pool in the rocks, City of Rocks State Park
Today, we can walk between the rocks - or perhaps get lost in them.  The park is only one square mile; a small park by American standards.  Brad and I arrive expecting to spend one night and one day.  We end up spending three nights here, partly because 1) we arrive mid-afternoon, 2) the first two days are cold and windy so we don't get out much, and 3) it is spectacular here.  The tallest rock formations are only about 40 feet high, but we can climb up on top of some of them and the 360 degree views this provides is out of this world.  We are surrounded by mountain ranges; we are in the middle of the valley and the grasses leading in all directions are golden.  It's like being in the middle of the wheat fields on the prairies with the Rockie Mountains all around you (well, the mountains here aren't THAT high).  As the sun sets, the mountains turn purple in the west, and gold in the east - what a sight!

On our second night, the wind finally subsides as the sun sets and we go for a walk in the rocks with our lantern after dark.  The stars are brilliant - there is no moon yet and the milky way stretches from horizon to horizon.  I wish I knew more about astronomy.  I see a few meteors and wish this could last forever.  We reach the rocks at a height where we can look down on the valley on the other side of the park and can see the lights of a small town in the distance.  It is spooky being here all by ourselves, in the dark, even though we have a lantern and a flashlight.  We still have to find our way back - we are not following a marked trail.  Brad insists he can lead me back since he was up here earlier today, but he has no sense of direction and he's had a couple of glasses of wine (Brad's a VERY cheap drunk!), so I'm not very confident.  But we do find our way back, not exactly the way we went in, but we do make it back to our trailer.

So the plan was to leave the next morning, but it's such a beautiful day that we decide to stay.  We hike around in the rocks for a bit, and then decide to move to another site that we find on the other side of the park where no one else is.  There is also no hookups (electrical or water), but for one night we don't care.  We also finally take our bikes down off the bike rack on the back of the trailer - three and a half weeks on this trip so far and we haven't used our bikes once.  We ride around the park, and up to Observation Point which proves to be the best view yet.
From Observation Point, overlooking City of Rocks State Park
We also see more wildlife here than we have anywhere so far on our trip, although just rabbits, jackrabbits and cottontails, and lots of songbirds.  Grady likes the wildlife here, but they do tend to keep him from his naps.

It is here that we meet Bonnie.  She is one of the Visitor Centre desk attendants.  Bonnie is from Washington state, but has been travelling in a fifth wheel for almost eight months, moving from one state park to another volunteering her time as an interpretive host, park host or visitor centre attendant.  For this, she gets free accommodation at the parks.  She has stayed in many parks in California, Arizona and now New Mexico, which is her favourite; in fact, she is looking for property here.  We talk to Bonnie at length about volunteering in the parks.  She does it because she wants to give back to her community and her country.  Others do it because it can be an economical way to travel and meet people.  Hats off to Bonnie; she put up with all of Brad's questions, including his daily question - why are these rocks here and nowhere else?  The answer?  Because they are.

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