Rockhound State Park
By Larry Lightner
I had been hearing about Rockhound State Park, about nine miles southeast of Deming, New Mexico, for nearly nine years, but I never seemed to get the opportunity to go down and see it in person.
My wife, Jeri, and I both love to look for unusual rocks and stones. We have specimens all over the place at our home, inside and out.
On a warm, sunny day a short while ago, we decided to take a trip down to the park, which is situated on the western flank of the Little Florida Mountains, and explore the area and its surroundings.
As soon as we arrived, we checked out the park exhibit room to see just what the heck we were supposed to be looking for. The raw product always looks very different from the finished one, and it helps to see the rocks on display.
We inspected a plaque outside which had specimens of semi-precious gem stones. That really got us going. We discovered this area has opals, jasper, geodes and a glittery black gemstone.
We don't have any real rock gathering equipment, so I make do with what I have. A twenty-ounce claw hammer will crack rocks and suffices as a pick. We also carried a one-gallon plastic jug. I cut a four-inch hole on top, opposite the handle, to make it into a container for specimens. We wore fanny packs, and I carried a camera and binoculars, the former to take photos of my attractive wife, and the latter to view the surrounding tall peaks in hopes of seeing an Ibex, that illusive goat that has been transplanted to the park region.
Off we trudged, taking the first small trail to our right. It led us up and over a saddle, out of sight of the park proper. We slowly explored around a myriad of prickly pear cactus searching for something unusual. We immediately found the glittery black gemstones. Onward and upward we traveled, our destination an outcropping of dark boulders. It was here that we discovered large amounts of jasper, most of which appeared to be orange and orange-brown. We also gathered some pink jasper and some of a gold coloration.
There were copious amounts of the black gemstone, which I was especially drawn to, much to Jeri's puzzlement since she did not find them to be particularly appealing.
We soon found out that our hammer was inadequate for the task at hand. When we tried to break particularly large rocks, the head would bounce off, sending splinters of steel and rock flying dangerously, like missiles, in every direction. We quickly discovered that the steel hammer head was taking quite a beating. It was tempered for hitting steel nail heads, not striking rocks. Evidently, the rocks are harder than steel. My glasses fell victim to the rock fragments and became chipped. We decided to turn our heads and swing blindly so as not to incur any more personal damage or expose our eyes to flying chips of stone and steel.
We really did not know what in the heck we were doing, but the object was to have fun, and we had lots of that. So we mostly settled on collecting the odd or the pretty.
Within ninety minutes or so we had a jug full, so we opted to go back down and have a picnic. Instead of utilizing one of the many clean picnic tables, we decided to sit on the tailgate where we could eat, look about and chat casually. We dined on Jeri's homemade potato salad, raw vegetables and thick corned beef sandwiches while we planned our next trek.
About five hundred feet above us on a steep slope, we spied two outcroppings of whitish-brown veins that were quite conspicuous since nothing else was that color. They drew me like a magnet.
We had to do some scrambling to reach the veins. It was steep and loose to boot, but accessible as long as we used caution. There were many places where others before us had dug at the bases of boulders and outcroppings. It was in one of these places that we took some greenish-tan specimens using the claws of the hammer as a pick. I had no idea what this stuff was, but it was unique to the countryside, so we collected it.
We climbed higher, my wife in the lead. She seemed to really be having fun crawling up and down the slopes, using the hammer claws to secure hand holds and for breaking up the small stones that caught her eye.
At one place we found a small cropping of geodes. We did not find any with crystalline hollows to keep, but we did find a bunch of small, marble-like nodules. Some were striped, but most were all solid slate gray. They seemed unusual to us, so we gathered up a dozen or so of the prettier ones and put them in our jug.
Next, we moved into a steep draw which had a vein of tan limestone. Right in the middle of it, on a wall about twelve feet up, was an unusual vein of bright pink limestone, at least that is what my tongue told me it was after I tasted it. Jeri insisted on getting some, so she literally crawled and pulled herself up the nearly vertical slope. I followed after her, figuring that I would do the husbandly thing and break her fall if she slipped and needed a soft place to land. But she got up there, as did I, without mishap. She proceeded to use the hammer claws to break away small chunks of her "treasure." It was a good spot to sit and admire the great view of the park grounds far below us.
Near this spot I found some more black rocks that were grainy in structure and did not have the glitter of my others. They reminded me of anthracite coal. I gathered in a fist-sized chunk along with several other small pieces.
In our explorations, we did not find any opals. I guess that is because we would not have known a raw opal if it had broken loose and hit us on the head. It was our only minor disappointment since this gem is Jeri's favorite.
On the way down, I stepped on a loose rock about the size of my fist. It let loose, causing me to take a nosedive down hill. Nothing got hurt except my dignity. I imagined that all the visitors in the park were at that very instant looking upward, viewing my fall.
We left the park with about fifteen pounds of specimens and souvenirs, which is the limit that one is allowed to take, and drove east. I had heard that there was a little known road over the saddle which would take us out to the roads east of the mountains. The bladed road soon turned into an ungraded two track which then in turn, turned into a wash with a few vehicle tracks in it. Then it turned into a bare whisper of a trail, then finally back into a rocky wash. I quit here as a tall cut bank lay before my front wheels. No one had been this way in a long time, and we were four or five miles from the graded road. Not a good place to get stuck. I reluctantly turned back, to the relief of my spouse. (She does not like four wheeling!!)
Back in the wash, she spied a bright pink rock (more like a boulder) which she insisted on having. So yours truly lugged the three hundred-pound (actually about seventy five-pound) rock back to the pickup. I will admit that it does compliment the painted trim on our house.
For myself, I found a brownish rock that had a splash of glittering green on it. A solid hit with the hammer revealed that its core was also green. It is a nifty memento of our little side excursion.
All in all, it was a good trip and a great adventure. We plan to do it again. Who knows, maybe we will even be able to find an opal or two.
Related DesertUSA Pages
Rock Hounding & Treasure Hunting
Share this page on Facebook:
DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)
SEARCH THIS SITE
Mitchell Caverns Video- Mitchell Caverns are limestone caves that feature a wide variety of formations. Trips through the caverns are conducted by guided tours only and last about 1 1/2 hours. Although the tour is not strenuous, there is a half-mile walk to the cave entrance from the visitor center and another half-mile walk throught the caverns on uneven ground. The area became a California State Park in 1956 and still contains the only limestone caves in the California State Park system. Watch Video...
Opal Hill Mine Video - Tucked deep into the Mule Mountains not far from Palo Verde lies Opal Hill Mine, well known for its beautiful and rare fire agate, opal eggs and quartz crystals. The mine is not a deep shaft or dark tunnel - it is a claim on a hillside which contains rock outcroppings and holes where agate has been found. You can go there yourself, and for a small collecting fee, look for your own agates - take a look at the video and see how to get there! Watch Video...
Barry Storm's Jade Mine Video - Joshua Tree National Park - DesertUSA researches Barry Storm, the author of Trail of the Lost Dutchman, first published in 1939. In 1957 he came out to California and was wandering around in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park. He chipped off the corner of a rock and discovered it was jade. Thinking he'd found the source of the ancient Mayan's jade, Storm mined and lived in that area for the rest of his life. Join us on our road trip to see Barry Storm's Jade Mine. Watch Video...
here to see current