After a quick four days in New Mexico, it was time to begin the second portion of our Spring Break 2K18 roadtrip. We loaded up and headed west for Flagstaff, AZ, where we would spend two days before heading back to the LA area. We headed out right after breakfast with the intention of stopping at Petrified Forest just off the I-40 just over 100 miles from our destination. We didn’t quite make it to Petrified Forest, as we made a stop after lunch in Grants, NM. Here the scenery made a change to lava fields. Welcome to El Malpais National Monument.
El Malpais is Spanish for “the badlands,” called such because of the lava flows. The scenery is marked by sandstone bluffs towering over fields of lava flows and forest. The land is old, with 10,000-year-old lava flows and a chain of 30 cinder cone volcanoes that flowed millenia ago. Similar to Hawaii, there are lava tubes to explore and two different types of lava flow: smooth pahoehoe and rocky and jagged ‘a’a. Above the lava flows are the sandstone bluffs, which provide an amazing overlook for the surrounding scenery. There is also La Ventana Natural Arch, the largest natural arch in New Mexico that is accessible to the public. Portions of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail go through El Malpais.
It was an amazing side trip. The El Malpais Visitor Center is off I-40 exit 85. Check in here first for visitor info and to pick up your junior ranger booklets. Many of the sights are accessible via exit 89, NM 117 and exit 81, NM 53. The day we went the ranger station was closed, so I would recommend checking with the visitor center. Some of the lava tubes are accessible, but require a permit. We were not able to visit due to the hibernating bats. We didn’t have time, but El Morro National Monument is only about 45 minutes away on NM 53. It is another park that participates in the junior ranger program, and is another short trip worth checking out if you’re out in the area.
I love little semi-spontaneous stops on our trips. That’s the fun of road-tripping.