Located in western New Mexico, El Malpais National Monument offers unbelievable scenery and an interesting history. The name of the National Monument, El Malpais, comes from the Spanish term Malpais, which means badlands, reflecting the very barren and dramatic volcanic field that encompasses much of the area of the park.
The park’s lava flows, cinder cones and other volcanic features are a part of the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, which is the second largest volcanic field in the Basin and Range Province. Within the monument, you can explore many lava tubes with a free caving permit; the caves Juction, Xenolith, Big Skylight, and Giant Ice are accessible only with one of the permits. A scenic overlook at Sandstone Bluffs, provides amazing panoramic views of the lava flows of the monument. The area is home to some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees on earth. The U.S. National Park Service is responsible for the protection and management of the national monument and operate two Visitor Centers within its confines.
When looking to explore a place that has unique scenery along with a rich history, El Malpais National Monument is an excellent choice.
To get to El Malpais National Monument from Albuquerque, take I40 W for 72.8 miles. Take exit 85 for State Highway 117. Turn left onto State Highway 117, continuing straight onto Jurassic Court Turn left onto Cliffbear Blvd to enter the park.
Parking is available throughout El Malpais National Monument.
The Greyhound can be taken to the city of Grants in New Mexico. Upon arriving in Grants, it is a walk of .8 miles to the El Malpais National Monument Visitor Center.
Adjacent to El Malpais National Monument is El Malpais National Conservation Area. Within the National Conservation Area, you will find Joe Skeen Campground. The campground is set away from the highway and offers a loop of ten campsites that are available free of charge on a first-come-first-served basis.
Each site offers a covered picnic table and fire grill and the campground includes two vault toilets. Pull through sites are available and can accommodate RVs and trailers of up to 50 feet. The gravel road allows the campground to be accessed in most weather conditions. A campground host is onsite and quiet hours are enforced from 10 PM to 6 AM. Joe Skeen Campground offers a great place to relax and makes a perfect home base to explore both the El Malpais National Monument and the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
About 30 minutes from El Malpais National Monument is the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave. The Bandera Volcano is one of the most recent in the region, having erupted about 12,000 years ago. Visitors can take an easy trail to the rim of the crater and another short trail leads to a lava tube that has a permanent layer of ice at the bottom of it. The Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave make a perfect addition to your time at El Malpais National Monument.
Hiking is a popular activity during a visit to El Malpais National Monument. For example, the Big Tubes Area offers a hike that will allow you to explore a portion of the Bandera Lava Flow. The route is marked by cairns and is about two miles in length. During your hike, you can take in rugged volcanic landscape that includes a lava wall, lava bridges, collapses, and lava tube caves. While visiting the National Monument, you will find options for easy, moderate and difficult treks. Make sure to bring and drink plenty of water to ensure that you remain hydrated.
Located in Grants, the New Mexico Mining Museum presents the history of Grants and the uranium mining boom of the 1950’s. The museum includes an underground exhibit of a recreated mine and the historic equipment that was utilized at the time. The museum is open Monday through Saturday and makes an excellent thing to do for those interested in mining history as well as for adventurers when the weather is not the best for outdoor activities.
About 25 miles from El Malpais National Monument is Acoma Pueblo. Built on top of a 367-foot sandstone bluff in a valley, the pueblo has existed since 1150 A. D. and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. The pueblo is known throughout the world for its art and culture and includes more than 250 dwellings, none of which have electricity, water or sewer. Tours of the pueblo are available year-round.
Whether exploring on foot or in your vehicle, you may encounter wildlife at El Malpais National Monument. You are most likely to come across squirrels, mule deer, and elk during your visit; rabbits, coyotes and fox also reside in the park and you may just catch a glimpse of one running across a road. Keep your eyes peeled once the sun has gone down; mountain lions and bobcats roam the forest at night.
Particularly when spending time in the Ponderosa pine forest, you may just spot a black bear. Looking for wildlife is exciting and something you can enjoy no matter the time of year.
During your visit to El Malpais National Monument, you can explore a hidden world; that of the lava tube caves located underneath the lava flows. If you are interested in exploring this underworld, make sure to get a permit at the El Malpais Visitor Center - its free. You must speak with a park ranger about cave safety prior to beginning to explore. Make sure to have proper equipment so that you may remain safe while being amazed at the underground scenery.