El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico
(April 29, 2016)—New Mexico and all of her vastness is a lot to take in for a green wilderness-loving vagabond like myself, but I’ve embraced her, and it’s a hell of a whole lot easier when you’ve got majestic pockets of towering ancient rock formations and various geological treasures like lava, natural caves, and sandstone bluffs that go on in infinity. Such is that of El Malpais National Monument which offers just about everything for just about everyone.
El Malpais, termed by the Spanish and meaning badlands, is a wild world of enjoyable views and forever changing landscapes; originally formed by three volcanoes that channeled into the area during a massive prehistoric eruption, the space today is a series of uneven lava terrain and extreme backcountry spectacles. As you enter the national preserve, one is immediately engulfed by the complexity of monumental rock, charred black from years of oxidization that continue to withstand the magnificence of our forever-modifying world.
Juniper and wild Russian sage (an invasive species not actually from Russia, but native to southwestern and central Asia, which was introduced to the steppes of 19th century Russia and remains a popular flowering perennial plant to this day) take over your senses entirely, further adding to this unique scenic experience.
The volcanic fields span for miles and are scattered with several cinder cones, dozens as a matter of fact, as well as many lava tube caves- and the flows themselves are named Pahoehoe and A’a’lava after the indigenous Zuni-Bandera and Acoma Puebloans who settled here long ago.
Finally, nestled in the greenness of high desert and devilishly aromatic brush is the second largest arch in New Mexico: the Ventana Arch which was naturally created from the freezing of glacier waters within the rock and which later thawed causing much of the rock to break away.
Whether you’re local to this unforgiving Land of Enchantment or driving our nation’s historic Route 66, this place, El Malpais, is a stop you cannot miss. A walk on this trail of ancients is one you’ll surely never forget.