If you like unusual landscapes and photogenic rock formations, this is the place for you. A group of bizarrely-shaped rocks rises from an otherwise fairly featureless plain as if they had been placed here by ancient man, but this is a completely natural construction. The outcrop was formed of volcanic ash 35 million years ago and sculpted by wind and water into these rows and groups of monolithic blocks, which are said to resemble streets of skyscrapers (hence the name, City of Rocks). Apparently the rock formations at the park are so unique that they are only known to exist in six other places in the world – but I haven’t been able to find out what those six places might be.
We only came for an hour or so. It’s a great place for a picnic, with lots of tables dotted among the rocks (see photo five). You can also camp here, with individual sites similarly tucked up against the rocks, and there’s also an area for RV hook-ups, though naturally that’s slightly further from the rocks themselves. A helpful ranger spotted us setting up for our picnic and recommended that we try a different area on the other side of the formations where the views and light would be better – t was. So if like us you’re here around lunch time, do check out the far side before deciding where to picnic.
Lunch finished we spent some time exploring between the rows of rocks, and taking lots of photos. It’s hard to do this place justice, but do open my panorama, photo three, to get an idea of the scale. We also went into the visitor centre where you can see a short video about how the rocks were formed. We thought about doing the nature trail through the cactus garden too, but an approaching storm (photo four) made us think twice, as we weren’t sure this would be a good place to be if the fork lightening came any closer. Our new friend the helpful ranger pointed out how the rain wasn’t actually hitting the ground – rising heat from the plains turns it to steam before it can do so. This phenomenon is known as “virga”.
Day use cost us $5 – there’s a self-pay station near the entrance. Camping costs more of course – check out the state parks website for a list of fees, which depend on the facilities available.
%Directions 24 miles south west of Silver on US 180, then go northeast on NM 61 for 4 miles to the park entrance road, which will be on your left
Driving north out of Silver towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings you will pass a half-hidden turning to Pinos Altos. But unless you are really in a hurry (and no one in a hurry should be driving winding Highway 15), do take the turning and spend a few minutes exploring this sleepy remnant of the once-Wild West. The town was founded in 1860, when three frustrated 49ers stopped to take a drink in Bear Creek and discovered gold here. Word spread, as it always did, and soon there were over 700 men prospecting in the area. Roy Bean operated a mercantile here in the 1860s before moving to West Texas to gain fame as Judge Roy Bean. Today several buildings of that era remain and have been restored, including the Buckhorn Saloon (photos two and three) which is still open for business in the evenings (but not on the morning when we visited).
The fire station in my fourth and fifth photos is not in the town itself but on the main road just before the turning (on your left). It was beautifully lit by the morning sunshine, unlike many of the more interesting buildings in Pinos Altos itself which were unfortunately in shadow. Come in the afternoon if you want to capture the saloon at its best – and if you make it late afternoon, you’ll be able to enjoy a drink or meal here too.
Directions Six miles north of Silver on NM 15
About 30 miles east of Silver City is City of Rocks State Park. A volcano blew its stack about 30 million years ago and deposited a pile of rocks hundreds of miles away on an otherwise flat plain. These monoliths have survived wind and water and have incredible shapes. Great to climb on, walk or drive around and a nearby hill is a perfect spot for watching the sunset. There is also a cactus garden, visitor center and over 50 campsites hidden among the rocks.
Not such a catchy name, but turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant bit of color right in the middle of town. It parrallels Bullard street, starting near Broadway.
Mogollon Ghost Town (pronounced Muggy-own)About a three hour drive East of Silver City on Hwy. 180 North of Glenwood.