El Malpais National Monument

We are still in western New Mexico and our day today was spent at El Malpais National Monument.  This is a large national monument that would best be explored in two or three days, but we only had one, so we did our best.  Part of the problem we encountered is that we are staying almost an hour away from the monument at Bluewater Lake State Park.  Normally, that wouldn’t be much of an issue, but the state park closes its gates at 5:00pm every day and if you aren’t back by then, you have to park outside the gates and walk in.  As we’ve mentioned before, we aren’t too comfortable with parking our truck away from where we are staying since it contains so many of our belongings, so we had to make sure we returned by 5:00.  This state park is a decent place to stay since it isn’t crowded at all, it has good cell service, and the price is great ($14.00 per night for a site with electric), but because of the gate issue we probably wouldn’t stay here again. 

El mapais means “the badlands” in Spanish and is often used to refer to lava flow areas in the southwest.  This particular park was created by five different lava flows with the oldest occurring approximately 60,000 years ago and the newest around 3,900 years ago.  There are two roads that travel along different borders of El Mapais NM and each have some great sights to see along the way.  Because of our time constraints we knew we would only be able to do one, so we stopped in at the visitor center to get advice from the rangers on what we should do.  The ranger we spoke with suggested we take the eastern road, Highway 117, so we took his advice and set off to explore the eastern edge of the park. 

Our first stop was the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook.  At this overlook, you are actually standing on top of the sandstone bluffs looking down into some of the lava flow areas.  The views were gorgeous.  We really enjoyed walking along the bluffs and taking in the views of the lava flows below, but also of the bluffs themselves, as well as the surrounding mountains and mesas. 

From Sandstone Bluffs, we continued south to La Ventana Natural Arch.  The arch is technically not in the national monument, but is right outside the borders on BLM land.  It is New Mexico’s second largest natural arch with a span of 135’, and is 25’ wide at its most narrow point.  You can see the arch from the road and parking area, but even better views are to be had by walking an easy quarter of a mile down a smooth gravel path.  There used to be a trail that led up under the arch, but sadly it is now closed and we had to settle for seeing it from a distance.

Our last stop in El Malpais was the Lava Falls Area.  Here, we found a one mile nature trail that took us along several different formations of McCartys Flow, which is the youngest lava flow in the park.  This trail was a lot of fun because we were hiking on top of the lava flow the entire way and we were seeing the cracks, sinks, and different types of lava formations up close.  The cracks in the lava here are unlike any we had seen before.  They are sometimes up to 18 inches wide and so deep!  It was hard to judge their depth, but we don’t feel it is an exaggeration to say that some are at least 12’ deep!  It seems unreal that the lava under our feet was that thick!  Since there is no physical trail, we had to rely on rock cairns to find our way which added a little bit of challenge to the hike.  We really had to be paying attention!  We also liked that it is a nature trail.  While there were no trail guides on site, we found one on the El Malpais page of the NPS app.  Being able to read about what we were seeing as we were seeing it really helped us to understand the area better!  While the NPS app has its issues, there are times that it is invaluable in finding your way around and/or learning about a park.

Our visit to El Malpais was entirely too short.  There are more hikes we want to do, craters and lava tubes to see, and older lava flows to explore, but they will have to wait until next time.  Like most places we visit, we really hope to return to sometime in the future!

See some of the sights that are easy to love at El Malpais here!

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “El Malpais National Monument”

  1. Appears as though you made the best of your one day at the park, with the time constraints under which you were operating!

    You have a lot of places that you want to visit again.

    Are you already talking about doing another year-long RV trip or are these things that will wait until you travel full-time?

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