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Rockhound Memories

Field Trip Report; Rabb Canyon, NM
By Walter Beneze
Posted on 2/1/2018 2:42 PM



By Walter Beneze; from The Rockytier, November 2013


Every year for the last 4 or 5, I have coerced several of my family members to go camping and rock hounding with me during the 3rd week of October. Since we usually go to Arizona, the weather is not usually a big deal, still plenty warm during the day, and drops off to a reasonably cool night. Another plus to camping during the week this late in the year, there is

usually no one else around, assuring us about any where we go to have no problem finding a nice spot to pitch a tent.


This year, however, there was a plot twist. Instead of going to Arizona, we decided on the Gila National Forrest in New Mexico. The Gila is a very large place, and we chose an area up on Hwy 152 between Mimbres and Truth or Consequences as our first place to camp. At a little over 7000 feet, the time of year makes a difference and we froze our hind ends off.


The first night got down to 30°, cold by most standards, but very cold by this Texan’s normal. Our preparations included new sleeping bags rated for 0°, so no biggie right? Not according to my daughters, junk sleeping bags as far as they were concerned; they froze both nights.


I had a little different problem on the first night. I have a travel alarm clock/thermometer that I take on all trips. Something I trust to wake me up and tell me what to expect when I throw the covers (or sleeping bag) off. I woke up at 3:30 am and saw that it was 37°, then woke up again at 6:30, with a big full moon and temp at 34°.


At 7:30 I figured there would be sunlight over the area and it seemed to be approaching light, so I covered up and went back to sleep. 8:30 showed a completely cloud covered sky, or so it seemed from inside the tent and no one else was awake, so I covered my head and went back to sleep. 9:30 still showed no real light, a temp of 32° and I was still tired, so I covered up and didn’t think about it. 10 am was dark and I thought, “well I guess the end has come, the sun did not rise today”, “this canyon can’t be that deep, can it?”. I knew there was something wrong, but in my sleep deprived stupor could not figure it out. I Covered my head again and slept till 11am. Really? Still no sun? I got up and started a fire so we could have breakfast and discover by looking at the clock on the car that my travel clock was ahead by 4 hours! How that happened, I do not know!


In about half an hour as the sun is coming up, one of my son’s wakes up and joins me at the fire and says, what is the plan?


I say – why don’t we break camp and do the hike to Rabb Canyon, then go set up camp by the Gila Hot Springs?


This seems a good idea, because neither of us has been on the trail, and he remembers the Hot springs as about an hour drive from where we are. I figure a long hike, some rock collecting, drive to a new location and set up camp, soak in the hot springs and sleep like a baby; I figured wrong...


The trail guides for Rabb canyon in most “Rock Hounding Guides’ will tell you things like “a 2 hour trail to the collecting area”, and a “1½ hour fast hike will get you there”, but unless you are in real good shape and are used to back country hiking, you will not cherish this trail. It is a half of a mile from the parking area to the trail head, then a brutal half a mile up to the saddle. This section was not bad, a gentle slope down and back up again, about a half a mile in length, and then a steep trail down to the “park” about another half mile. “After another mile of almost recognizable trail you will come to an area of good collectable specimens of crystal, amethyst, and tiny moonstone”. Or so we were told.


It took us 3 hours to get in to the “collecting area”. Problem was, there had been a forest fire that burned down the coral that was supposed to be the marker for where to begin searching. The posts are recognizable around the perimeter, but the cross posts were gone. Another problem was, the directions said “on your right” when they should have said “on your left”, there is a stream bed that is the main collecting area, which we missed by 75’.


We followed a stream bed on the right up and over big rocky boulders that produced nothing. As we came back down we spotted a stream bed on the opposite side of where we had come up and we found the Rabb Creek we had been searching for. In it, we found more crystals than we could carry out. Plain crystals, amethyst, smokey crystals, and one of my daughters found some Blue Moonstone (the main thing we went to look for), tiny, fingernail size, but really nice blue moonstone.


At this point we had spent about an hour longer up there than we were planning, and due to the large number of piles of bear scat and mountain lion tracks we had seen, decided that we better high tail it out, as the sun was about a half hour from going behind the mountain. We knew it would not get dark before we were out, but did not want to chance it. Since we were setting a slightly faster pace, we were out in 2 hours and twenty minutes. I personally could not have done it any quicker, but my kids were waiting on my wife and me more than once.


We finally got back to the vehicles and started our move to the Gila Hot Springs. Turns out that a one hour drive was actually a two and a half hour drive, further and further into the middle of no where than you or I have ever been.  Did you ever watch a movie where the forest seemed to swallow the cameras and the longer the drive the darker the brush was?


This was so far into nowhere I thought there might be no way out. We arrived at the Gila Hot Springs at about 8:30 pm and set up camp with the help of flash lights and headlamps, and with one of our party building a nice big fire to cook on. After setting up camp, cooking and eating some nice big steaks and baked potato’s, a couple of us hit the natural hot springs and soothed our aching bones. Should have known that was the last of our comfort for the night.

About somewhere in the middle of the night the wife’s and my air mattress went flat again, and I could not take the hard flat ground (with occasional rock lump) anymore, so I moved to the car.


Figured a front seat is preferable to dirt any day. At sunlight, there was a chill in the air that beat last night by a long shot, and as my wife built a fire, we discovered that our camp jug of water that stays on the picnic table was frozen solid. Had to put it next to the fire for half an hour just to have water to boil for coffee.


At this point, we figured another dip in the hot springs, and we would continue our rock hounding back in Deming at one or two of the many rock shops that are open daily. We had about as much fun camping as we could take this trip.


~Walt Beneze.

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