Our first leg of the trip took us to T or C to find banded rhyolite (candy rock) on TV Tower Hill. To get there we had to drive through a culvert under I-25. Greg went first and scraped his camper a little, but Josh and I made it without touching. We found some good rhyolite, but not as good as at the Green Spar Mine on Fluorite Ridge or down by Gage.
Then we headed back through town on NM Hwy 51, past Elephant Butte Dam (which we’d never seen before—what lake?), but before we got to Engle we turned south toward some arbitrary GPS coordinates I had interpreted from a vague map in New Mexico Rockhounding. Amazingly, Josh found most of a petrified tree lying in an outcrop where there was very little other petrified wood to be found. Someone had taken away the easiest sections nearest the top of the tree, but with perseverance we excavated the next section down and carried it what I estimate to be a quarter mile (or more) back to the camper. The best we could do was 50-100 feet, then drop it and go back for the rest of our stuff. I still wonder if my hernia operation is intact.
We had one more questionable location to check for agate and wood, but with that earlier score—and being near happy hour—we decided to drive past it, on to the carnelian site. We camped on top of the ridge, had our gin and tonics, and began finding carnelian almost as soon as we looked down on the ground. We also saw mysterious piles of rock. The first one we saw looked like an old, abandoned fire ring, but then we saw more than we could count all over the landscape. We considered several hypotheses as to what they might be, including shallow graves at a battlefield or agave roasting pits.
That afternoon and the next morning we searched far and wide for carnelian with fair success, then headed back toward the main road where, unbeknownst to us until we saw it from our campsite, lay the Spaceport. (We continued to find carnelian at every stop along the way—generally no bigger than the end of your thumb.) We were only allowed to take pictures of the Spaceport from the parking lot, then drove on down the road toward Hatch to look for a place to stop for lunch. When we had asked the sentry at the gate if there was a café in Upham (it IS on the map) he looked like we had just arrived from outer space. Down the dusty road we were surprised to see a parking area with a kiosk and signage for El Camino Real so we pulled over there, fixed a quick lunch, then walked the 3-mile round trip to the escarpment where we expected to see piles of broken wagons and bleached bones. The only evidence of the trail was swales, but the interpretive signs helped us imagine traveling along the Jornada del Muerto. The weather we experienced must have been about the very best they could have hoped for.
The next goal of our trip was to find a place to camp near the saddle above the Palm Park (barite) Mine on the other side of the mountains (northeast of Hatch). With maps and GPS we managed to get into a high arroyo sheltered from the wind that had begun to blow through the wide valley. It was as close as I had hoped to be (about a mile from the summit) and as far as we wanted to drive. Again we found some banded rhyolite worth collecting, but nothing you’d drive all the way there to find. The next morning we hiked up the road to the saddle and looked for the little quartz scepters we had found before, walking up from the Palm Park Mine. We got back to the trucks before lunchtime and relaxed with a beer before heading back down into the valley and the road that took us to the Tonuco exit just south of Rincon. After having fish tacos at Fidencio’s in Hatch, we headed home. Couldn’t have asked for a better time in Southwest New Mexico.
References: Gem Trails of New Mexico, James R. Mitchell. New Mexico Rockhounding, Stephen M. Voynick
|Camper in Culvert|
|Rock pile on Carnelian Ridge|
|Road up from the Palm Park Mine|