A spectacular and nearly-unique set of opportunities in New Mexico, the El Malpais National Monument consists of 114,276 acres, nearly all of it rugged backcountry. Despite there being no fees to visit and explore, the monument is home to one of the nicest visitor centers in the State of New Mexico.
While the expanse of the malpais can be seen from the tourist car pull-outs, there’s only one way to truly experience the El Malpais…
While people have hiked off into the El Malpais never to be seen again, the National Park Service has created a number of marked hiking trails for visitors to explore the lava flows in relative safety. Sturdy boots, tweezers (for cactus needles), map and compass, sun protection, and plenty of water is recommended.
The remains of several historic homesteads are found along the edges of the malpais lava flows. Prehistoric sites are abundant.
Of course all archaeological sites within the monument, and on all public lands, are protected by federal law.
With a free permit from the visitor center, some lava tubes are open for exploring. As part of the permit application, visitors are made aware of hazards, checked for proper gear, and cleared so as not to contaminate the tubes with harmful fungus from other caves.
Accessing some of the caves involves crossing a field of car-size boulders. Once inside, some of the tubes are large and cavernous.
Other tubes are somewhat less spacious, involving crawling to reach the far ends.
One lava tube has a very special feature, year-round ice. Unlike the nearby private tourist Ice Cave, the El Malpais National Monument allows visitors to view their ice for free.
In one tube a hole in the ceiling allows sunlight to reach the floor, allowing for a forest of moss to thrive.
Sunset from the Sandstone Bluffs Area
Some photos taken over multiple days from the Sandstone Bluffs area.
Looking off to the north, Mount Taylor and the Cibola National Forest.