El Malpais National Monument

El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area is a 350,000-acre national park located in western New Mexico. Spanish explorers gave El Malpais its name, which means “badlands” or “bad country,” due to the prevalence of volcanic activity in the area. Its stark landscape was formed by the spread of molten lava across the high desert, which led to the development of various caves, cinder cones and trenches, and resulted in some of the most unique geography in the American Southwest. While this rugged volcanic field may seem barren at first glance, it is actually home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including elk, mule deer, snakes, tree frogs, and some of the oldest Douglas firs in the world. El Malpais National Monument features activities for visitors of all ages and skill levels, from camping under the stars and hiking across the wondrous Lava Falls to bird watching and scenic drives that allow for stunning views of a land rich in geographic history.

Lava Tubes

Lava Tubes
Lava Tubes

Below El Malpais National Monument lie a series of lava tube caves, which once allowed for the travel of lava beneath the surface of lava flow during volcanic eruptions. Once the lava flow ceased, however, the rock hardened and lava caves were formed. Unguided tours of these caves were permitted until December 2010, but are now off-limits to recreational visitors due to a number of environmental factors. Authorized researchers wishing to explore the El Malpais lava tubes are still allowed access to the caves, but must obtain a permit prior to their visit.

Camping

Camping
Camping

Although El Malpais National Monument is not home to a developed campground, primitive camping is allowed in designated areas throughout the park. However, El Malpais camping is not for the faint of heart. Since the majority of the land is undeveloped, a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle is required to help ensure safe access to the permitted camping locations. It is also recommended that campers obtain a backcountry permit, which is available at no cost through the Information Center. For visitors searching for something a bit more comfortable, El Morro National Monument has a nine-site developed campground that is located just 20 miles west of the El Malpais Information Center. These campsites are available year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis and feature a ground grill, picnic table and water access.

El Malpais National Monument Map

El Malpais National Monument Map
El Malpais National Monument Map

Prospective hikers may also download and print trail guides and other helpful brochures prior to their trip via the National Park Service webpage for safe, convenient access to El Malpais National Monument’s most well-known landmarks, including El Calderon, Lava Falls, Sandstone Bluffs and Zuni Acoma Trail.

Top image: NPS.gov

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