About the SiteEl Malpais means The Badlands in Spanish, and that's a fair description of the terrain in this western New Mexico site. The entire area is approximately 30 miles by 17 miles, though not all of this terrain is encompassed in the Site. Scientists believe that four or more major lava flows over time spilled out of vents and calderas, eventually covering fertile land with a variety of types of lava. Some flows could be over 100,000 years old; the Acoma Indians, who reside to the east of El Malpais, recount a story describing how lava innundated their crops and fields. If so, the most recent lava activity took place between 700 and 1540 A.D. Viewed by satellite from above, the El Malpais region looks like a vast lake of cooled lava, broken up by vegetation and mountain ranges and mesas. Up close and personal, the detail is much more interesting.
What You're Going to SeeWhat you're going to see is rough lava terrain, much of it only now being broken up by vegetation and erosion. The NPS offers plenty of warnings to travellers about wearing sturdy shoes and advises against bringing pets, for the sharp rocks can slice feet and paws and sneakers to ribbons. This is a new Site, only established in 1987, and lacks many of the amenities of other Sites. It's an undeveloped area, so be prepared to bring in your own food and water (though towns aren't too far away). The information center is located right off Highway 53, surrounded by Ponderosa pines, and it's about three miles east of the Continental Divide.
Personal ObservationsWe traveled through here in July, and the weather was surprisingly cooperative. Every afternoon we were threatened with thunderclouds, which provided much -appreciated shade, and occasionally we'd get wet. No one complained about that. If the skies had been clear, the afternoons would have been uncomfortably hot. But as we explored El Malpais in the afternoon following our trek in El Morro, the weather cooperated nicely.
Getting ThereFrom Albuquerque, take I-40 west for about 66 miles. To see La Ventana Natural Arch and other spots on the eastern border of El Malpais, take Exit 89 and drive south on Highway 117. To see the Visitor Center and the rest of the monument, continue on I-40 to Exit 81. Take Highway 53 south for about 24 miles to the Center. Various ttrails lead off to the south, one to the Zuni-Acoma Trail, another to Junction Cave. Highway 53 continues on to the west and El Morro National Monument and, eventually, back up to Gallup and I-40.
Nearby Attractions20 miles to the west is El Morro National Monument. 70 miles to the east is Petroglyph National Monument. 70 miles to the north is Chaco Culture National Historic Park. 100 miles to the east is Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.