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Four for the road

City of Rocks

By day, the City of Rocks is just that; a colossal, improbable grouping of towering stone pinnacle formations rising as much as 40 feet high, with paths akin to streets carved among them.

“It’s one of New Mexico’s hidden gems, said Evaristo Giron, Southwest Region manager.

“There are breathtaking landscapes and unique rock formations. It’s a great place to go have a picnic.”

The formations in the relatively small park of about one square mile are composed of volcanic ash about 40 million years old. They are transformed into an otherworldly experience when the sun sets and the scene becomes a star party, as it will June 9 at 9:30 p.m.

With an observatory on site and virtually no light pollution, the park offers visitors the opportunity to gaze through a 14-inch telescope to see star clusters and even galaxies, Giron said. Saturn rises before the program ends. Jupiter is well up. The summer Milky Way is rising in the east. Volunteers from the National Public Observatory in Radium Springs help interpret the constellations and other sights.

“Our dark skies are awesome,” Giron said. “You can see anything that’s up in the sky.”

The next morning is the perfect time for a stroll on the new, mile-and-a-half Cienega Trail that loops through the flat grasslands to a natural spring that attracts a variety of critters, he said.

Another worthy hike is the moderate, three-mile round trip to the top of 5,726-foot Table Mountain, said park manager Gabe Medrano.

From the top, the full tableau of the City of Rocks can be seen, but also “you can see the Mimbres Valley and the Mimbres River,” he said. “You can see down into Deming and Lordsburg, and north into Gila.”

Caballo

South along the Rio Grande from Elephant Butte Lake, Caballo offers a similar range of boating activities as its bigger and far more populated neighbor to the north, Giron said.

Big things are in the works for Caballo with the construction of a new visitor’s center in the planning stages, he said, to help interpret the vast cultural significance of the area.

This fall should bring the completion of an equine trail and corral.

“It’s going to be one of the few state parks where you’re encouraged to get on your horse and explore the park,” Giron said.

Percha Dam

Just a mile from Caballo, Percha is a premium birding site.

“It’s second to the Bosque del Apache,” Giron said. “A person can potentially identify over 30 species on any given visit. That’s good birding when you can identity that many. Folks come out to see the Vermillion flycatcher, depending on the time, and the yellow warbler.”

Because Percha is a low-level diversion dam, water is funneled along, creating great fishing along the riverbank under the mature cottonwood bosque.

A must, Giron said, is the short stroll along the Cienega Trail through the flat grasslands into a natural spring, an oasis that attracts dragonflies, birds and smaller and even occasionally larger mammals.

Elephant Butte

The state’s largest body of water, Elephant Butte attracts thousands of people every weekend, with one of the largest gatherings approaching as some 100,000 people descend on the lake for the unofficial start of summer on Memorial Day weekend.

The vast lake has some 19 miles of shoreline with much of it sandy beaches, said Beth Wojahn, spokesperson for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Fishing tournaments, sailboat tournaments and balloon regattas are just a few of the activities on tap for Memorial Day weekend, while the marinas will be doing brisk business renting pontoon speed boats for pulling skiers or boogie boarders, and double-decker boats for families.

New Mexico’s various state parks, sprinkled from one end of the state to the other, offer a variety of recreational opportunities to challenge the senses.

Each is special in its own way.

This continues a monthly look at those state parks, highlighting just what makes each one unique. This time it is a peek at half of the Southwest Region’s eight parks.

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