In Spanish, El Malpais translates to badlands. A visit to this National Monument allows you to experience the vastness and diversity of our nation’s treasures, which is such a good thing.
El Malpais is located just west of Albuquerque near the town of Grants (which in its own right is a great stop along Route 66). As you travel on I-40, you get a small glimpse of this massive lava flow as the highway cuts through the black, rocky terrain. But, as you enter into this park and conservation area, you are nearly overwhelmed with amazing views of how expansive this ancient volcanic landscape is.
As the NPS description reads, “this stark landscape preserves one of the best continuous geologic records of volcanism on the planet. There is much good in these badlands: the area offers diverse natural environments and tantalizing evidence of American Indian and European history.”
There is a lot to explore at El Malpais, including caving down into some of the lava tube caves. For us, this was strictly a sightseeing exploration, not really knowing what to expect when we left the house for the second of our 12-park visitation plan.
Our first stop along the eastern edge of the monument was at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. Wow! From atop the bluffs, you could see for hundreds of miles. Look down below and the lava flow seemed to never end. Look north and Mt. Taylor, one of the Navajo’s sacred mountains and a dormant volcano, stood sentinel. The sky was painted a cerulean blue with strokes of silvery clouds. We had fun crawling over the smooth sandstone formations and taking artistic photos.
Next on our tour was La Ventana Natural Arch. Carved into the towering sandstone walls, you could imagine the indigenous people finding intrigue in this creation just as we did. We were able to enjoy this wondrous rock formation as the backdrop to our picnic lunch.
Now with fuel in our bellies, we headed south through the Narrows to the Lava Falls. We hiked a trail that stretched across the lava flow, allowing us a more up-close and tactile experience with the ancient molten lava. Today, there are shrubs, trees and cacti that thrive in this harsh terrain. It was surreal to be amidst this once destructive lava flow.
Alas, it was time to head back home, however, we now how a new favorite place for exploration that is just down the road. We look forward to taking our friends to El Malpais someday to share another of our enchanting adventures.