Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A City of Rocks

About 30 miles north of Deming, NM, is a short spur road that climbs 100 feet to the top of a small hill that gives a panoramic overview of the surrounding empty Chihuahuan desert prairie.

The grasses of the prairie, well south of though still in sight of the rugged Gila Mountains, present a colorful valley floor--if you look closely for the subtle variations in the browns, yellows, golds, and bronzes.

From the top of the observation hill, we could see a square-mile "city" of columns of rock.

Arrowheads and pottery shards found among the rocks are reminders of the presence of the Mimbres or Membreno Indians who settled the area between 750-1250 A.D. Later, settlements of Apache Indians appeared in this area, and Spanish explorers moved into the area in the 1500s.

Today, campers and hikers are the main groups of visitors among the 50,000 people who tour the City of Rocks State Park each year.

It is believed that these formations were thrown 180 miles from a volcano near Albuquer-que.

It would be even more amazing if these rocks, some of which are 40 feet tall, were thrown into the positions that we now see.

However, while that explanation would have fit a Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" segment very nicely, it overlooks the effects of erosion on the rocks over a period of nearly 35 million years!

Essentially, this assemblage of large rocks is a flat-lying sheet of reddish lava which has been chiseled by the action of water-borne abrasives into the likeness of a city with streets and buildings.

The erosion has produced formations that resemble objects, such as what seems like the giant foam "We're Number 1" finger, and

animals, such as what looks to us like a whale (left center), although the profile of that rock looks more like a whale than when viewed from this angle.

The rock formations at the park are so unique that they are only known to exist in six other places in the world.

Lastly, since the park rests beneath some of the darkest night skies in the country, it was an ideal location for an observatory. The Star Observatory was open for folks to view the recent lunar eclipse.

We have become interested in the prairie over the course of our travels, so we leave you with one more photo of the grasses of the Mimbres Valley.