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)
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?
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.
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.