El Malpais National Monument

Written by on May 13, 2015 in NM Outdoor Adventures - Comments Off on El Malpais National Monument

El Malpais National Monument is one of the most unique outdoor adventure areas in the Southwest. El Malpais means “the bad country” in Spanish, so named by the Conquistadors who had to detour around the rough terrain. This area lives up to its name with more than 590 square miles of razor-sharp black lava flows, the landscape is inhospitable, but beautiful. Unquestionably, the main feature of El Malpais are gnarled configurations formed by molten lava — including lava tubes, ice caves, sinkholes, spatter cones, pressure ridges and craters.
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El Malpais forms part of the Colorado Plateau and core of the Mount Taylor volcanic region, one of the most significant volcanic areas in the United States. This vast area of black lava is a startling contrast to the surrounding desert terrain. There are a dozen major lava flows in the monument that took place between 1 million and 3,000 years ago, and represent one of the longest sequences of volcanic eruptions in the country. The last eruption probably occurred between A.D. 700 and 1540, since the Acoma Indians still have legends about the flow destroying their fields and crops. The Zuni-Acoma trail through this forbidding terrain once connected two major Native America Indian pueblos and trading centers. Visitors can still follow part of the trail today.

Two paved roads and one dirt road border the area and offer unparalleled opportunities to view to lava flows. In the summer, El Malpais offers ranger-led programs including guided hikes, cave tours, and bat flight viewings. Very few trails exist in the monument area … rather cairned routes lead hikers to interesting features. The piles of cairned rocks can be hard to spot, so be prepared to use your route-finding skills!

Junction Cave is actually a lava tube, and sits alongside the three-mile loop trail in the El Calderon area. This is a good place for visitors to hike and get a feel for El Malpais. Candelaria Cave contain ice year around and is what inspired people to preserve the area as a park of some kind.

There are no developed camping sites in the monument area, although backcountry and primitive camping are allowed with permit. In the conservation area, there are five camping sites available in The Narrows picnic area. The nearest town, Grants, New Mexico, offers gas, food, lodging and shopping.

Other attractions in the area include:
El Morro National Monument
Petrified Forest National Park
Albuquerque biological Park – Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden and Tingley Beach
Sandia Peak Tramway
Petroglyph National Monument

El Malpais National Monument
123 E. Roosevelt Avenue
Grants, NM 87020-2017
Information Center: (505) 783-4774
Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center: (505) 876-2783
Headquarters: (505) 285-4641

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