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El Malpais National Monument

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General Information

Description - El Malpais - "the badlands" in Spanish - is a spectacular volcanic area, featuring spatter cones, a 17 mile-long lava tube system, and ice caves. The area is also rich in ancient Pueblo Indian history and features diverse ecosystems.

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Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Trip Reports:
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Filed By: Jeff Brode (Albuquerque, NM)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: The Escalante trail is a roughly 7 1/2 mile section of the Acoma-Zuni trail. It connects two highways (NM 117 and NM 53)which run south from Interstate 40 near Grants, NM. This hike can be done "one way" with a car shuttle. It is a difficult and very rewarding hike. Despite the fact that the elevation change from one trailhead to the other is small, the difficulty lies in the rugged terrain. You are hiking, for the most part, over lava; at least five different flows which have been deposited over the past couple thousand years or so. One thing about trails over lava is that even over many centuries, little develops in the way of a "trail". The originators of the trail had the good sense to erect large cairns (often as close together as 10 yards, so that navigation was possible. Always keep a cairn in sight! It is easy to get off route! I have done this hike as a roundtrip and as a one way with a car shuttle. The first mile or two from either trailhead is easy. It's when you actually get up on the flows that things slow down. There many short ups, downs and arounds. The cairns are sometimes hard to spot, because they often blend in with the background. With a little patience, you will see them. Bright white concrete posts are placed at wide intervals (usually high points) to provide general direction help in addition to the cairns. The lava is very abrasive, but offers a superb grip to rubber soles. The lava is generally very stable, as it has not eroded much, but care is needed not to turn an ankle. A walking stick is very useful. The landscape in the middle two thirds of the hike is almost surreal; besides the infinite variety of shapes in the lava, the vegetation (mostly scrub oak, juniper, pinon and Ponderosa pine), which grows right out of the lava, is wildly stunted and deformed. What a place! The best times of the year to do this hike are the spring through winter (depending on the snow). Summer would be very hot. There is no water along the route, so plan on taking along at least 2 quarts per person; more if it is warm; even more if it is hot. After completing this hike, you might have an appetite. I always do! The town of Grants to the north has a few good restaurants, but I don't remember their names, but they are on the main drag through town. I was out on this trail today, Jan. 10, 2004. Started at the east (NM 117) trailhead, hiked halfway in and back. Something about this place keeps bringing me back. Didn't see another soul, except for the buddy I was hiking with (it's probably not a great idea to hike this trail alone given the potential to get injured). Feel free to email me if I can provide any additional information about this exquisite place.

More Information

Contact Information:
El Malpais National Monument, P.O. Box 939, 201 E. Roosevelt Avenue , Grants, NM, 87020, Phone: 505-285-4641

Additional Information:
New Mexico National Forests and Parks - The wide range of terrain and climates found in the state of New Mexico creates diverse settings in its National Forests and Park sites.
New Mexico's Historic Sites -

El Malpais National Monument - Official agency website


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