Monday, September 30, 2013

El Malpais National Monument, NM

About one hour west of Albuquerque, New Mexico is the El Malpais [pron. MAL-pay-ees; means Badlands] National Monument as well as the El Malpais National conservation Area.  Here we enjoy a free BLM campground with great views of sandstone bluffs and Mount Taylor (New Mexico's tallest peak at over 11,000 feet).  We hike trails overlooking and through the black lava beds that were created by the volcanos on the west side of the park; we explore caves that were once tubes where lava flowed underground.  This land is ageless: the orange, sandstone bluffs formed 138 million years ago and since then formations like La Ventana have been created by erosion; the oldest volcanoes started erupting 750,000 years ago and continued until as recently as 3,000 years ago; native pueblan peoples inhabited the area from 1,000 years ago; 500 years ago Spaniards conquered the land; and 26 years ago the area was designated as a national monument, preserving the history and geology for us to enjoy.  We are surprised by the beauty of the area, although I don't know why - New Mexico has never failed to enchant us.

From the Narrows Rim Trail overlooking the lava field. Notice the many collapsed areas which are probably lava tubes, now caves. Can you see Brad sitting on the left?
Also from the Narrows Rim Trail, a close-up of the strange "Ropy Pahoehoe" on the lava.
A lava cave-in on the Zuni-Acoma Trail. Notice the yellow wildflowers.

Brad on the Lava Falls, where lava from the McCarty's eruption only 3,000 years ago dripped over the edge of a crevice.
A fabulous view of the lava field (on the left) from the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. Mount Taylor, at over 11,000 feet is in the background.

Marilyn entering Junction Cave in the El Calderon area, the oldest volcanic region in the park.

Marilyn in the Xenolith Cave in the El Calderon area, a very short hike before a 10-foot drop stops the progress of unskilled cavers.

La Ventana (The Window), a 180-foot arch in the sandstone cliffs east of the lava field.

Thanks to all of the recent rains, which have been washing out roads and flooding parks, the wildflowers are starting to bloom. There are reds, purples, yellows and oranges, and the grasses have greened which makes for a welcome change to the usual desert brown.


  1. Awesome post! And timely for us. We are headed there after the balloon Fiesta. Thought we'd stay a day or so. Now weknow that won"t be long enough. You headed to Q this January?

    1. Hey Sue! We're so close - we're at Angel Peak on Hwy 550 just south of Bloomfield! You will LOVE El Malpais; hopefully the gov't shutdown is over by then as you need a permit from the Visitor Center to enter the caves. But the campground isn't gated, so you should still be able to get in there and the other hikes in the park should be accessible.

      We're not planning on going to Quartzsite this trip, at least not at this point, but we'll keep in touch.