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New Mexico

El Malpais National Monument

Explore the diverse volcanology of lava flows and associated features dating from 115,000 to 2,000 years old. Photography, sightseeing and wildlife viewing opportunities abound. Hike along established routes or make your own way. Go underground and experience the diveristy of life thriving in lava tubes. Picnic or camp. The backcountry camper is virtually certain of isolation.

El Malpais means "the badlands" but contrary to its name this unique area holds many surprises, many of which researchers are now unraveling. This monument preserves 114,277 acres of which 109,260 acres are federal and 5,017 acres are private.

Volcanic features such as lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges and complex lava tube systems dominate the landscape. Closer inspection reveals unique ecosystems with complex relationships. Sandstone bluffs and mesas border the eastern side, providing access to vast wilderness

Exploring on Foot

The jagged volcanic terrain influences a variety of activities such as hiking, spelunking and primitive camping. Very few trails exist at El Malpais National Monument. Rather, cairned routes lead hikers to interesting features. These piles of rocks blend in well with the lava flows and are often difficult to sight. Hikers need to be prepared to apply route-finding skills to avoid becoming lost.

Exploring by Car

The monument is bordered by two state highways and a dirt county road. NM117 on the eastern boundary provides a scenic drive along the McCarty's Lava Flow. This is the youngest flow within El Malpais and is dated between 2000-3000 years old.

NM53 is a scenic byway that follows the northern boundary of the monument. It parallels the El Calderon Lava Flow which is estimated to be 115,000 years old and is the oldest lava flow withing El Malpais.

County Road 42 is also known as the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway. This is a 32 mile dirt road that provides access to the western portion of the monument. High clearance vehicles are recommended for traveling this road.


El Malpais is located south of Grants, NM. Two major state highways border the monument and conservation area and both are accessed via Interstate 40. Exit 89, east of Grants, will take you along NM 117 which forms the eastern boundary. BLM

El Malpais National Monument
El Malpais National Monument



Document Information
Source: New Mexico Tourism; NPS; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20070501
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