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If you spend a lot of time RV camping in state or national parks, you’re familiar with the rules that you can’t take any natural resources out of those parks. But did you know that there’s a park where this is not only legal but encouraged? Rockhound State Park, established in 1966, has the distinction of being the first state park to allow private rock collectors to take from the park. Look closely, and you’re sure to find geodes, thundereggs, jasper, and many other treasures.
Rockhound State Park is in southwestern New Mexico, one hour west of Las Cruces, near Interstate 10. The 1,100-acre park is at the foot of the Little Florida Mountains at an altitude of 4,500 feet. This is a very rural part of the state, dotted with ghost towns and remains of Native American settlements. The region’s unique geology is volcanic in origin and responsible for the many different gems you’ll find while out hiking the trails. But that’s not all Rockhound State Park has to offer; you’ll experience wildlife, colorful poppy blooms in the spring, and great stargazing opportunities. If you want to try your hand at finding your own geode, rent an RV in Luna County and grab a campsite at Rockhound State Park.
Rockhound State Park’s main activity is gem collecting on the three miles of hiking trails. These trails have names like Thunder Egg Trail and Jasper Trail, a nod to the types of rocks you may find while out on your hike. These hikes are both less than a mile in length but can be combined to make a bigger loop around the park. There is some elevation gain, but it’s mostly gradual. There’s also a botanical garden trail where you can view the different plant life at the park, like yucca, barrel cactus, and prickly pear. You'll have a 15-pound limit on the rocks you take from the park, and it must be for your private collection – no selling.
Wildlife viewing and birdwatching might also distract you from rock collecting. In the park, you’ll find deer and antelope, and if you venture further up into the hills, you’ll be lucky to see a mountain lion or bighorn sheep. Birdwatching is best in the spring and fall, and some of the park’s avian residents include quail, bluebirds, and goldfinch, to name just a few.
There’s an additional area of the park three miles down the road. The Spring Canyon Unit allows you to stretch your legs on the out-and-back Lovers Leap overlook trail. There are numerous picnic sites along the trail where you can stop for a break and enjoy the desert landscape surrounding you.
For being in such a rural area, the campground at Rockhound State Park has excellent RV camping facilities. There are 29 total campsites, 23 of which have water and electric hookups. None have sewer hookups, but a dump station is available in the campground. The restrooms have flushing toilets and showers, and drinking water is also provided.
The campsites at Rockhound State Park are in a barren desert landscape void of any natural barriers for privacy or shade. But they do have ample space from one site to the next to give you some room. The sites are based at the foot of the hill with views over the valley. Pets are allowed, and a children’s playground is also located in the center of the campground.
Rockhound State Park has a decent visitors' center with a gift shop and exhibits explaining the local geology. While there, you can look at the schedule to see if you can get on any of their ranger-led interpretive programs. You may feel like you’re in an extremely rural area when camping at Rockhound State Park, but its location near Interstate 10 gives you plenty of places to refuel your campervan rental and stock up on supplies. You’ll have immediate access to large travel centers near Deming, ten miles north, which also has some shopping centers and plenty of authentic Tex-Mex. While in Deming, you can visit the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, a WWI-era armory with historical artifacts on display.
Motorhome camping opportunities abound in this area of New Mexico. The massive Gila National Forest is an hour north. Also to the north, if you’re heading towards Albuquerque, you’ll have the giant reservoir at Elephant Butte Lake State Park and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. If your travels will take you east, El Paso is just under two hours away along the interstate.