Today the average climber looking for something to climb really has it good. In many cases, all we have to do is go online and perform a simple search. Mountain Project alone boasts info on more routes than you could ever hope to do in ten lifetimes.
Thanks to this ample supply of readily accessible beta, it can be easy to forget the incredible amount of effort it took to establish all the crags we enjoy in 2015. Decades of scouring. Decades of bushwhacking. Decades of blood, sweat and tears poured into projects. Decades of adventure.
But while it’s certainly nice to have a convenient, well-used boulder cluster around — a place to go for a couple hours after work that guarantees a variety of difficulties and styles — it can be better still to devote an entire day to wandering around in an area and finding your own problems.
Journeying for hours without a pre-planned trajectory, you become that much more absorbed in the environment, that much more focused on all the rock around you, and that much more liberated from the normal march of time. There’s also something rewarding about earning your climbs.
City Of Rocks
If you live in New Mexico and have never had the pleasure of striking out on your own in this manner, City of Rocks State Park is a fantastic place to get started. Here you’ll find a dense maze of boulders. The maze is encircled by a gravel loop, so you can’t really get too lost.
The boulders at City of Rocks are volcanic in origin — the produce of a 35-million-year-old ash flow that has fissured and weathered to become the strange collection of lozenges and pillars we see today. (The now cooled and consolidated material is officially named, “The Kneeling Nun Tuff,” after a larger structure in the vicinity.)
Chalk use is restricted in the park, so as you move into the midst of these bizarre forms, keep your eyes peeled for any edge, hueco or crack you might be able to gain purchase on. Problems are everywhere. Even if you’re not really sure a line is viable, give it a shot anyway. You’ll be amazed at how the impossible becomes possible the more you stare at the faces. Almost feels like one of those Magic Eye books from back in the ’90s.
Three Gun Springs
Now, unless you’re in Silver City or Deming or one of the other tiny places on the southern boundary of the Gila Wilderness, getting to City of Rocks will probably require a significant drive. Worth it for sure, but not always feasible for folks who live in, say, the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area.
Of course, every burqueño climber knows about U-Mound — the tight spread of granite boulders located at the east end of Copper. Unfortunately, however, few locals venture out into other areas in the foothills like Three Gun Springs.
To get to Three Gun Springs, head east out of Albuquerque on I-40, then exit at Carñuel, continuing east on Highway 333. Pretty soon after exiting, you’ll turn left on Monticello Drive, which will take you north towards the mountains. Hard-to-see signs will direct you to the parking lot and trailhead. As soon as you step out of the car, there’ll be granite boulders everywhere. Boulders stacked on boulders stacked on boulders in a sunny and steep amphitheater that’s about a mile wide by two miles long.
Even just sitting and watching the light change out here is enough to keep you engrossed in the place. Climbing, crawling around in hidden crevices under and between blocks of stone, weaving your way mindfully through lush desert vegetation — these are icing on the cake. These are the prizes for deciding to eschew pre-chewed beta and partake of the adventurous spirit of climbing’s pioneers.
- City Of Rocks State Park (New Mexico State Parks)
- Three Gun Springs Trailhead (Google Maps)
- Trigo Canyon, Part 1: A Voyage Into The Manzanos (Farther Still)
(Today’s photo of Aurora Boulder at City of Rocks State Park is courtesy of Mag Kim.)