A Phoenix In the Desert – City of Rocks, NM

“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)

Deep in the City of Rocks, NM

It was all so unexpected. We were rolling through dust and endless horizon of high desert hills lost in the lazy dreams of a scene from an old Western, when it arose before us. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the flower of a thousand rocks bloomed and presented itself to our view. So rare and inexplicable was this scene that I almost expected Zeus himself to appear and announce he’d thrown the spears of rock from the sky.

Here was the City of Rocks and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

 OK, OK, I realize that I’m shamelessly mixing mythology here, but it was all so very surreal that it was hard to comprehend what we were actually seeing. After all, why is this singular group of rocks here? How did they get here? And what in the world are they possibly doing in the middle of this godforsaken desert?

Mountains shadow the valley

As it turns out truth is not far separated from myth, and Zeus (or rather his predecessor) may have been involved after all. The entire history of this clump of rocks goes back ~35 million years to a massive eruption ~1000 times larger than Mt. St.Helen’s, known as the “Kneeling Nun”. The main explosion sent ~1000 cubic kilometers of volcanic pumice, ash, and gas into the air blanketing the ground for many hundreds of miles around. Intense heat compacted and welded the mass into rocks of “ignimbrite” or “tuff” which then eroded and cracked through many cycles of cooling, freezing and thawing over the next millions of years. 

Lost in the rocks

So, what we saw as we crested the hill was literally a 35-million year scene in the making. Here lies a formation so unique it only exists a few other places in the world, and yet you can camp, play and climb right in the middle of it all!

The scene is so magical that my camera has been going wild, almost of its own accord, and I’ve been blown away by the sheer uniqueness of it all. We’ve also extended our stay, because this may well be something we never experience again. If I may say it, this place rocks!

So, as we lose ourselves in sculptures of rock and sky, sweeping us away on the wings of myth and past, I’ll leave you with dreams of a place that, quite literally, rose from the ashes. This is not just a piece of history, but a sublime creation and a gateway to the wonders that nature can give us.

It just goes to show, sometimes the real thing is far more spectacular than fantasy.

Hiking to the observation point
Surrealistic sculptures

View of the valley
A moody afternoon in the campground
Late afternoon sky
Polly poses for a shot
There are over 35 species of birds in the valley
The phoenix rises from the desert. The road into City of Rocks, NM
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Sandie Dixon says

    We loved City of Rocks when we were there. And it truly does just appear out of no where. Great pictures and thanks for the memories.

    • libertatemamo says

      Cheers! It was thanks to your original blog post that we decided to come here, so gotta give you kudos for that. Nina

  2. says

    Yeah! We were there! We were there! Not the same time you were, of course, but we had the same feeling when we first saw that pile of rocks from the top of the hill — what is this mess of rocks asnd why is it here? We didn’t say it so poetically as you, but we felt it anyway.

  3. says

    You could – (SHOULD) – publish a coffee table book for travelers …. I can see it sitting there. Large footprint – maybe 11” x 18″ in size, white cover with your wonderful pictures and superb comments inside. Would make any virtual traveler drool and be a wonderful keepsake for RVers too ! Similar to the National Parks or Inside Alaska Passage coffee table books I have.

    And I suggest you include a “Wheeling It 5/5 Favorites” check list page. This SP is on our bucket list – and is one of my Mom’s very favorites for New Mexico.

    • libertatemamo says

      I love that idea!! It’ll take some workin’, but you never know….
      So happy you’re enjoying the blog :)


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