El Malpais is located in Grants, NM. Visitors to this national park will enjoy the volcanic landscape with its wildlife diversity and rich cultural history. El Malpais has a rich cultural history that spans centuries. Ancient native civilizations made trail cairns to cross the lava flows and made sense of their environment with rituals and stories. Spanish conquistadors gave it the name El Malpais and detoured around it in their missions. Settlers eventually settled on its edges and tried to make a living off of the desert land. These stories and these people are can be found preserved in petroglyphs trail cairns, wall remnants, and other architectural and cultural remains discovered in the backcountry of this New Mexico park.
Things to Do
El Malpais offers several opportunities for visitors to explore both the natural history and cultural history of the park as well as current wildlife.
Sites on Highway 53
- Zuni-Acoma Trailhead- An ultra-rugged hike, this trail follows seven and half miles of lava. The trail is marked with rock cairns and has been used for hundreds of years by the Pueblo People.
- El Calderon Area- This trail is a three-mile loop that winds past several lava flow features as well as the El Calderon volcano. The volcano was active about 115,000 years ago. This trail is the most developed throughout the park. Its trailhead has pit toilets and picnic tables. From this trail, hiker’s wanting more can try the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
- El Malpais Information Center- From this center hikers can access the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. The information center features picnic tables, bathrooms, and water.
Sites on Highway 117
- El Malpais Ranger Station (BLM)- This trail extends one and half miles and is marked and graded. It winds up the ridge found behind the ranger station. It features bathrooms, picnic tables, and water.
- Sandstone Bluffs- This encompasses a gravel road that leads up to a magnificent overlook of the diverse lava flows of El Malpais. This area features toilets and picnic tables. Hikers can explore the cliffs or take one of the varied routes to the areas below the bluffs.
- Joe Skeen Campground (BLM)- This is a primitive camping site with ten sites that include shade shelters, picnic tables, fire grates and pit toilets.
- Acoma-Zuni Trailhead- This is the eastern side of the tough Zuni-Acoma Trail. Hikers should be prepared for super tough hike.
- La Ventana Arch (BLM)- This area features one of the biggest sandstone arches in New Mexico and is located eighteen miles south of the highway. A short trail leads to the overlook and it features picnic tables and pit toilets.
- South Narrows Picnic Area and Narrows Rim Trailhead (BLM)- The Narrow Rim trail is eight miles and begins here. The trailhead includes picnic tables, pit toilets, and shade shelters.
- Lava Falls- Visitors can explore the McCarty’s Lava Flow on this one and half mile trail marked with rock cairns. Picnic tables and toilets can be accessed here.
Outdoor Activities- El Malpais offers various ways for visitors to enjoy its diverse landscape in as much or as little time as possible.
- Driving- Visitors can enjoy a scenic drive on the paved highways through the park or head off on the backcountry roads in four-wheel drive.
- Hiking- Hiking is available with an abundance of trails that range from easy to ruggedly advanced. These trails include some ancient routes that natives from thousands of years ago used.
- Explore Nature- El Malpais’s diverse animal and plant communities can be explored by naturalists. The four seasons cause dramatic changes to the landscape throughout the year.
- Lava Tubes and Caving- Lava tube caves offer hidden ice formations and interesting geology for visitors to explore. Free caving permits can be obtained as well as the right equipment. The following caves are available for exploration:
- Junction Cave
- Xenolith Cave
- Big Skylight Cave
- Giant Ice Cave
- Four Windows
Explore Local Towns- There are several towns nearby that visitors can explore. These towns include Acoma, Zuni, and Laguna. These town have museums, visitor’s centers, and special events that the general public can enjoy. Larger cities such as Gallup, San Fidel, and Grants can be explored by driving down the historic Route 66.
New Mexico Mining Museum- This museum allows visitors to explore the history of the Uranium mining boom of the late 1950's. The museum features an exhibit lying underground that recreates a mine complete with the equipment used to run it.
Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave- This volcano is the most active in the area with its last eruption being about twelve thousand years ago. A hiking trail allows visitors to explore the area around the crater. The Ice cave can be reached by visitors through lava, yes, lava tube. Where fire meets ice, the tube goes down into a huge layer of solid ice at the bottom, making this attraction a spectacle to behold.
Cibola National Forest- Mount Taylor Ranger District- This region is considered both the Taylor Mountain, and the Zuni Mountain together. Mount Taylor is the higher of the two, topping out at eleven thousand three hundred and one feet. Several roads through the forest snake through stands of douglas fir and aspen, groves of ponderosa, and open areas of parkland. There are several campgrounds open seasonally.
El Malpais National Conservation Area- It extends over two hundred thousand acres of land. There are two marked wilderness areas that offer visitors space and solitude. Visitors to this area are rewarded with the sight of New Mexico’s La Ventana, the largest arches in the state.
Field Trips- El Malpais offers options that include sight-seeing, hiking, caving, and exploring the visitors center.
Junior Ranger Program- Kids can pick up an activity book at the Visitor’s center. Once the required activities are completed the book can be turned into the park and a badge will be given.
Volunteer Opportunities- Volunteer opportunities give visitors a chance to learn more about El Malpais. These opportunities include staffing the front desk, helping with surveys of birds, working on wilderness management options, and helping with archaeological investigations.
1900 E. Santa Fe Ave, Grants, NM 87020, Phone: 505-876-2783
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