What do you do when it starts pouring rain right after you pull into your campsite?
You turn your vehicle into your tent. Redistribute a few gear bags; blow up some sleeping pads and spread out sleeping bags; kick back and relax.
Now what? What is the first thing you do the moment you have a millisecond of unoccupied time?
Did you just reach for your phone?
In any moment of un-critically-occupied time, we seem to grab our phones. Drinking coffee. Waiting in the checkout line. Sitting at a stoplight. Stuck in your vehicle during an unexpected downpour.
I check for notifications and open my social media accounts. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I’m already scrolling through photos, double-tapping at random.
And when I’m stuck in my car during an unexpected downpour with no cell service… I think about notifications I might be missing.
But WHY?!? What could be so insanely critical that I had to know about it right that instant?
Nothing. Especially nothing I was going to find on social media.
So, I took the forced downtime to do anything but browse social media or actively use my phone with my hands. I journaled. Napped. Read. Listened to downloaded podcasts. And, ironically, this is when I came across How to Unplug with Danny Kim, episode 100 from Wild Ideas Worth Living. It covered exactly what had been running through my brain a couple of hours earlier: Do we need to unplug, and, if so, how can we?
Honestly, to answer that, I’d just be repeating what I heard on that podcast, so go give it a listen for yourself.
Trust me, it’s worth listening to. Because once the sun did come back out and I inadvertently found cell service while hiking, I resisted the urge to jump on Insta. I heard a few notification dings, turned my phone on silent, and challenged myself to only use my phone for pictures until I left City of Rocks the next day.
And I succeeded. Partially because I still didn’t have cell service throughout most of the park, but also because I wanted to change my relationship with social media:
Less shallow gratification seeking.
More fun sharing.
City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico is the type of place that blows my mind—small but mighty. A seemingly random, relatively small space that stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape.
You’ll roll into the area on some quiet highways and paved roads, passing Faywood Hot Springs, a small resort with—yes, you guessed it—hot springs. City of Rocks doesn’t even appear until you’re practically right at the front entrance of this massive cluster of giant boulders melting into each other. This monolithic structure is volcanic rock. Wind and water etched the formation over time, leaving smooth, rounded surfaces.
As always, I recommend making the visitor center your first stop. The rangers on duty can give you up-to-the-minute details along with the usual maps and souvenirs. I let them know I had two dogs and asked if there was anything I should be aware of aside from keeping them on leash throughout the campground.
They let me know they had spotted a mountain lion nearby the day prior and that elk and bear were in the area, so I should keep an extra close eye on my pets.
Of course, when they met Cool Whip and Herc later they realized we didn’t have quite as much to worry about than if they’d been small, snack-sized dogs. ;)
You can’t pick a bad spot in this park, but our friendly ranger did offer a couple of recommendations to help us stay out the wind that day. Just one of the many reasons to make time to talk with the local rangers. It’s their job to know these parks, so they can provide information on things you didn’t even think to consider.
Campsites are $10.00 per night. You can make reservations for some campsites but others are first-come-first-served only. I wasn’t visiting during peak season and I didn’t need electrical hook-ups, so I relied on the FCFS options. Each site has a picnic table and campfire ring. There are garbage cans tucked throughout the campground as well as several pit toilets. The visitor center also has flush toilets and showers if you want to feel fancy.
Once the aforementioned rain cleared, we scurried all over the park. The whole place is dog-friendly aside from inside the buildings. There are trails to hike but we mostly stuck to scrambling around on the boulders because there seemed to be endless nooks and crannies to explore.
Whether this is a destination or a pitstop on a larger adventure, I highly recommend it. We spent one night here after visiting White Sands National Monument and I’ll definitely stop again if I’m cruising through southern New Mexico.
I parked at the last picnic spot above the lake, layered up, and hopped out. And then immediately jumped back in. Definitely gonna need my vest out there!
I hopped out for attempt #2. Better.
And oh golly were the hounds excited!
For a long time New Mexico was simply a state I had to pass through going to and from Minnesota/Arizona. It did not impress me. Sure, there were a few nice views from I-40 on the western side of the state, but nothing that really called to me to explore. I’d also experienced some pretty freaky weather cruising across the state: sudden snow, torrential rains and wind, and the thickest fog I’ve ever driven through. Oye. This latest trip through, however, changed the vibe for me.
At our last gas station stop in Arizona I opened Google Maps and scanned New Mexico for traces of green within an inch of I-40 (meaning park or forest areas where we wouldn’t have to detour too far off our route). All sorts of options showed up.
Bluewater State Park was the winner. It was a 10-15 minute drive off the freeway and totally worth it. The place was empty -- understandably considering it was below freezing and there were those previously mentioned torrential winds blazing across the landscape. But I owed the hounds a solid bout of exploring.
Despite the cold, the place was beautiful. Deep green pines, red-tinged dirt, and a wind-blown, ice-rimmed lake. Skittering down the rocky hill brought us to a sandy beach. Not exactly the best weather for a romantic beach walk, but it worked for us.
Right before we left a band of wild horses meandered out of the trees across the way (the tiny black dots at the far side of the lake). Magical. Once they spotted us, I took that as our cue to head back up to the car. No sense in disturbing their peaceful vibes with a couple of manic hounds wanting get a sniff up close and personal.