Location: WS Mountain Trail in the
Blue Range Wilderness
Directions: Northwest of Silver City NM
off Hwy 180, between the towns Alma
and Reserve. A mile or so north of
Cottonwood campground is Forest Road
232 (County Rd 13), head west for
about 6 miles to Pueblo Creek
campground and the collecting site.
GPS: N33° 35.47’ and W108° 57.63’
Land Manager: Gila National Forest /
Apache National Forest
Material: Agate, Bytownite, Chalcedony,
Labradorite, Hypersthene, Rhyolite
Tools: Estwing rock hammer, Estwing rock pick
Guidebook: Gem Trails of New Mexico
by James R. Mitchell
by Daniel Kessler, Beginning Rockhound, and Marketing and Ecommerce Director for Mama’s Minerals
If you are in New Mexico and looking for a great weekend rock-hounding getaway, the Gila and Apache National Forests in the southwestern corner of New Mexico offer a variety of opportunities. As a beginner to the rock-hounding hobby, I was looking for a good location where I could easily get to and easily find some cool rocks to kick off my collection.
This article is written from my perspective, a beginner, but should also give some good insight to the location for more advanced rockhounders.
I camped at the Pueblo Park Campground and hiked numerous trails into the Apache National Forest in the Blue Range Wilderness area. There was no water at the campground, but it had two restrooms that were clean and stocked, at least in early March. There are about 10 nice and level sites at the campground with fire pits and cooking grates. The sign said “Tents Only,” which is probably due to the 6-mile dirt road getting in rather than the campground itself. The road’s not bad, and I made it in a small Toyota car -- but I could see needing a four-wheel drive in early spring with a wet road.
My guidebook suggested starting at the hills just south of the campground, which is the WS Mountain Trail entering the Blue Ridge Wilderness area. I followed the trail for about ½ mile to a nice cliff face of reddish Rhyolite that turned into a gentle slope to the river. On the slope and along the river were lots of basketball and smaller-sized boulders, and being excited to start swinging my hammer, I cracked the first one that looked like it would have gas pockets. Wow! The first rock opened and released a brilliant shine of dozens of small crystals. It seemed like every rock I cracked was dotted with crystals in yellow, white, and black.
The guidebook indicated that Bytownite and quartz would be abundant, but the crystals would be small, and this was certainly what I found. I started to look in the surrounding wash areas because it had just rained, and I figured any loose stones would be clean and shiny in the sun. To my surprise, what I first found was lots of Rhyolite with what I thought was Calcite streaks and chunks -- an interesting rock that I later found out was fluorescent green Chalcedony and not Calcite. Up and down the river and wash areas were hundreds of specimens of this red Rhyolite with bright white Chalcedony, which is not much of a collector’s item, but beautiful all the same.
I started to find Rhyolite with lots of holes, so that it looked almost like lava. Breaking a few of these, I began to see larger Bytownite crystals as large as ¾” and some as large as 1”. It was a little hard to chisel these out of rock and I broke quite a few into much smaller pieces, but hey, I’m a beginner and just learning.
One nice thing about this collection site is that the washes all have gemstones laying around if you look hard enough. You don’t really need tools if you are willing to play in the sand in the wash and in the river. My girlfriend even found a ¼” Bytownite crystal in the middle of the hiking trail.
It seemed to me that most of this area was littered with good potential rocks. I found a lot of Agate, mostly white and light blue, interesting Chalcedony in flowing patterns, nice sized Bytownite crystals, and most of all had a great time at my first rockhounding trip.
If you have extra time while in this area, there are some “don’t miss” tourist sites. I started my trip in Albuquerque, NM, which took me right by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array. You’ve probably seen this very cool place in photographs and in movies like Contact. Located just off Highway 60 between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, the visitors’ center has a small museum and a nice walking trail that takes you right up to one of the huge dishes. The VLA is located in the middle of the high mountain Plains of San Agustin; the scenery is beautiful and the VLA is amazing.
South of the collection site on Highway 180, south towards Silver City, is Catwalk National Recreation Trail just outside the small town of Glenwood. Turn east on Highway 174 and follow the signs to one of the coolest hikes in the country. The trail follows the Whitewater Creek gorge, highlighting an old mining catwalk route dating to the 1890’s. A metal walkway traverses a deep slot canyon with rushing water and beautiful waterfalls below. The trail continues up the canyon via a variety of carved stairs, wooden bridges, and metal ramps for a 2.2-mile scenic experience.
There is a lot more to do and see in this part of New Mexico, which I didn’t have time for, so I’m definitely going back soon.
Beginning Rockhound, and Marketing and Ecommerce Director for Mama’s Minerals