When driving through Grants, on Interstate 40, the craggy basalt terrain cascades south to the horizon. The highway runs along the northern boundary of the Grants Lava Flow, which is part of the El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area. It is visually daunting. If Mordor was real, this is what I imagine it would look like. Lord of the Rings reference for any non-geeks reading. Mordor was home to the evil wizard.

El Malpais National Monument near GrantsThe Badlands

El Malpais, pronounced el-mal-pie-EES, translates to “the badlands” in Spanish, which is pretty much what the Spanish conquistadors called all treacherous or challenging terrain. They couldn’t cross the lava field with horses and livestock. Walking is strenuous and horses and cattle can’t navigate the lava flows. The Spaniards preferred to circumvent the lava flows on the north or south.

Conservation and Preservation

The Federal Government protected the region by law in December, 1987 to preserve the geological, archaeological, ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness resources surrounding the lava flows. The National Conservation Area extends beyond the National Monument on all sides except the north. I-40 serves as the northern boundary. The Federal Government designated much of the National Conservation Area as wilderness. No development allowed.

The Manhattan Project considered detonating the first atomic bomb in the lava fields during the 1940s. Ultimately, the Department of Defense chose White Sands; however, they used El Malpais as a bombing range to train pilots during World War II.

The BLM and the National Park service share responsibilities for protection of the area. The BLM manages 262,000 acres and the National Park Service manages the 114,000 acres dedicated to the National Monument. The area encompasses dramatic sandstone cliffs, canyons, La Ventana Natural Arch, the Chain of Craters Back Country Byway, Narrows Picnic Area, a Chacoan Archeological Site, ice caves, and other prominent natural and cultural resources. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail passes through the El Malpais. Additonally, there is one extended trail (Zuni-Acoma Trail), three short loop trails, and several overlooks.

Though the monument is on a state road, there normally isn’t much human traffic. Cell phone reception is minimal to non-existent. I wouldn’t recommend this area for young children or dogs. There are too many hazards and it is too hot in the summer. The lava flows shred dog paws. However, for outdoor enthusiasts with a fondness for backcountry exploration, caving, and minimal human interaction, El Malpais is ideal. Be prepared, because there are limited amenities and/or facilities available.

Mount Taylor in the distance from El Malpais National MonumentVolcanic Legacy

The jagged, desolate landscape of El Malais is a volcanologist’s playground. A million years of volcanic activity sculpted the landscape. Numerous volcanoes and several lava flows generated the field of lava. The most recent volcanic activity was about 800 years ago.

El Malpais McCartysThere are five layers of lava from McCartys Crater, Bandera Crater, Cerro Hoya, El Calderon, and Twin Craters, with a variety of volcanoes and volcanic features represented within the flows. In fact, one of the youngest volcanic features in the continental United States is McCartys crater, a shield volcano visible from Highway 117. McCartys erupted 500-1000 years ago, an event referenced in both Acoma and Zuni oral history. Acoma lore references lava flows that inundated the cultivated fields of their ancestors. That account implies the eruption occurred between 700-1540 AD.

Zuni Bandera Lava Field

The Grants lava flow is part of the Bandera-Zuni lava flows, which includes Mount Taylor and Bandera crater. Mt. Taylor, towering on the northern horizon, is a large stratovolcano. It created the oldest lava flows in the area, 1.5-3.3 million years old. Bandera is one of the best, and most accessible, examples of a cinder crater. The lava tubes cascading from Bandera are some of the longest in North America. However, neither Mount Taylor or Bandera are part of the Monument or Conservation area.

The Zuni-Bandera field covers more than 1500 square miles. It lies on the southeastern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, at the intersection of the Rio Grande Basin and the Jemez alignment. This is a “transition zone,” an area where the thickness of the earth’s crust varies dramatically. The Jemez lineament is a very deep fault, penetrating deep through the crust and upper mantle. It runs north by northeast and includes the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, the Mt. Taylor volcanic field, and the Jemez volcanic field. The western portion of the region falls within the elongated dome called the Zuni Uplift. The eastern half lies within the Acoma Embayment. The El Malpais is the core of the Mount Taylor volcanic region, one of the most significant volcanic areas in the U.S.

Geological Petrie Dish

El Malpais map of lava flowsResearchers published an analysis of lava tubes in New Mexico in 1970, noting the similarities to formations on the Moon. Moonscape? Not surprising. Many areas of New Mexico have an off-world ambience. The lava flows resemble Hawaii’s volcanic landscapes. Due to the amount of volcanic study in Hawaii, many of the unique landscape features have Hawaiian names. Smooth, ropy-textured lavas are called pahoehoe, pronounced pah-HOY-hoy. Sharp, jagged lavas, that shred all but the sturdiest hiking boots, are a’a, pronounced AH-ah.

The Pahoehoe and A’a’ lava flows in the El Malpais filled a large basin created by the Rio Grande Rift. Vents associated with the major lava flows include Bandera Crater, El Calderon, and numerous cinder cones. There are more than twenty-five old cinder cones that follow a north-south trajectory on the west side of the monument. This feature is known as the Chain of Craters.

Kipukas are undisturbed areas that lava flows surrounded but did not cover. These ecological islands of vegetation create islands of native plant and animal communities. These ecological islands host some of the oldest Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir trees on earth. Study of the flora and fauna that thrives in the kipukas yields valuable information for restoring disturbed portions of El Malpais.

Ice Caves

Water is a precious commodity in the Southwest. Drought is common, including mega-droughts. Water is critical in the El Malpais, but it is more abundant than you might expect. Annual precipitation averages 10 inches. Localized thunderstorms are more common in the summer months, July – August. The lava beds retain rainfall better than the surrounding land, because the escaping air in lava creates pores in volcanic rock. Water permeates the lava and gets trapped beneath the basalt or in the lava tubes. The lava acts as an insulated container, reducing evaporation and keeping the temperature very low, like Mother Nature’s Igloo cooler. Some of the moisture cools and becomes crystalline ice.

There are several ice caves in the monument. Entry requires checking in with the rangers, procuring a free caving permit, good shoes and a willingness to hike. For easier access, there is also an ice cave that is next door to the El Malpais on private land. The entrance is on Hwy 53, approximately 25 miles south of Grants. There is a nominal fee, with two short, easy trails. One trail leads to the ice caves and the other leads to an overlook of Bandera Crater. It is an imposing cinder cone volcano. Flanked by ten or more smaller cinder cones, the crater is 1800 feet across and 700 feet deep. Two other landmarks within the El Malpais are nearby, El Calderon and Twin Craters.

Human Habitation

The area around El Malpais was used for resources, settlement, and travel by Oasisamerica cultures, Native Americans, and Spanish colonial and pioneer exploration. There are several archaeological sites in the park.

People have lived on the periphery of the lava fields for at least a thousand years. Early inhabitants relied on the mineral resources, lichen for dye and bat guano for fertilizer. Additionally, the area is significant to both Acoma and Zuni pueblos. They flank El Malpais on the east and west. Both pueblos have been around for a very, very (add a couple more of those) long time. How long? I don’t know. That seems to be a point of ongoing debate and contention. One thousand years at least, possibly significantly longer. The Zuni-Acoma Trail traverses the Malpais. The rock cairns created centuries ago still mark the route. Rock cairns are piles of rock used to mark a route. They are common in lava fields, because creating a traditional trail or footpath is challenging in the extreme terrain. Please don’t remove stones or add to them.


The region’s first inhabitants arrived during the Paleo-Indian Period (10,000-5,500 BC). They relied on hunting and left stone and bone tools behind. At some point during the Archaic Period (5500 BC-400 AD), the people living around the El Malpais developed agriculture and they planted crops on mesa tops and in the valleys. They occupied shelters beneath the overhangs of Cebolleta Mesa, which defines the eastern edge of the lava flow. This area is considered a traditional point of contact between the Mogollon, Ancestral Puebloan (aka Anasazi), Sinagua and Patayan cultures. Early human occupation peaked between 950-1350 AD, coinciding with the growth and expansion of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization. El Malpais was on the fringe of a political and economic system centered in Chaco Canyon eighty miles north.

Lava outside of GrantsAncestral Puebloans

The Ancestral Puebloan culture in the Four Corners area between 400-1350 AD represents the transformation of the indigenous people from nomadic hunters and gatherers to cultivators. The process evolved slowly.

Initially, the Ancestral Puebloans settled in the canyons and on the mesas, forming numerous villages and hamlets. They upgraded from cave shelters to pithouses around 800 AD. By around 950 AD, during the Cebolleta phase, communities cropped up in the canyons, with fewer villages on mesa tops. Small communities consolidated into larger population centers; the ancient world’s urbanization trend, with a corresponding boom in cultural evolution and innovation. Agriculture was central to the economy.

Chaco was “the capital” and the structures built at Chaco were the largest in North America until the 1800s. However, Pueblo Bonito was not THE Pueblo. Actually, it was more like city hall or perhaps the ancient version of D.C., with concentrated administration, commerce, power and wealth housed there. The many communities up and down the canyon were the residential neighborhoods.

The Ancestral Puebloan’s power and influence dominated the region for 400 years, but their civilization crumbled in the late 1200s. They abandoned Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon by the 1300s. Various studies have confirmed a prolonged drought, which may have provoked a climatological refugee crisis. Regardless, people began to migrate from Mesa Verde and Chaco in small family groups. They settled in canyons, near streams and rivers, and on top of mesas throughout the region. Additionally, many of the outlier communities continued beyond Chaco’s collapse.

Dittert Site

The Dittert Site in El Malpais is one of more than sixty sites in the Armijo Canyon area. The National Park Service named the site after Alfred “Ed” Dittert Jr., the archaeologist who excavated it between 1947-1949. The ruin is an L-shaped masonry structure. It was originally two stories high with 30-35 rooms as well as a circular room. The people who built it constructed the rooms close together, with the kiva incorporated into the building. They created walls of compound masonry, with “pecked” sandstone (worked by hand so the rocks are uniform). Dittert Site may have been a Chacoan Outlier. The inhabitants abandoned the village by the mid-1300s and moved from the lava fields to Acoma mesa.

El Malpais

Acoma & Zuni

In 1540 Coronado’s expedition encountered two major pueblos bordering the El Malpais, Zuni and Acoma. Acoma and Zuni forged a trail through the lava fields, connecting the two pueblos and creating one of the oldest highways in the region. However, the trail wasn’t livestock friendly. Horses couldn’t negotiate the lava without lacerating hooves and fetlocks, which is why the Spaniards preferred to avoid it. Most trails and, later, roads skirt the lava flows.

When New Mexico became part of the United States in 1848, Anglo explorers perceived El Malpais as a hindrance to travel. They did not move into El Malpais in significant numbers until the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Homesteaders and sheepherders attempted to eke out an existence near the lava fields. The Vanishing Treasures program administers the Garrett Homestead, one of the early homesteads.


Leave No Trace | What’s in Your Pack checklist

Many trails are marked with cairns in El Malpais. There is no well-defined path visible on the landscape. The only maintained trail is the strenuous 7 mile (one way) Zuni-Acoma Trail, an ancient Indian route that crosses four of the major lava flows between NM 117 and NM 53. The rock is sharp and brittle. Walking off trail can be hazardous. The lava has fissures that are several feet deep and can be unstable and brittle.

El Malpais National Monument from the sandstone cliffs

Continental Divide Trail

Approximately 30 miles of the Continental Divide Trail are within the El Malpais. The CDT enters the Conservation Area and winds through the Chain of Craters. The Chain of Craters is a twenty mile string of cinder cones formed when an underground lava flow found a fissure at the surface. The largest cone, Cerro Alto, is 8,460 feet.

Big Tubes

There are three other entry points for exploring the lava. The most interesting, and least accessible, is the Big Tubes area, which is near the western edge of the lava flow. There are several huge lava caves, both intact and partially collapsed. The caves formed when a solidified rock crust congealed over flowing currents of lava underneath. When the liquid lava drained away, empty tunnels remained, like long rock straws. Many of them contain ice all year.

El Calderon

Along NM 53, there is a three mile loop trail to explore El Calderon region. This area includes Junction Cave, Double Sinks, El Calderon cinder cone, lava flows, and sandstone formations.

Lava Falls

Along NM 117, the Lava Falls region includes some of the most recent flows in the monument, with a variety of different volcanic features. Explore lava features and plant adaptations unique to McCartys flow, the most recent vocano. The Bandera Crater, in the northwest, is privately owned. There is a large ice cave, set in thick lava deposits at the foot of Bandera, a symmetric, cinder cone with a crater over 700 feet deep.

Sandstone Bluffs

The lava is bordered in the east by a long sandstone escarpment, with cliffs up to 400 feet high. Rock climbing is NOT allowed. NM 117 runs along the base for fifteen miles, with a side road to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, which is an excellent viewpoint of the cliffs to the east and the lava to the west. One well-known natural landmark along the highway is La Ventana Natural Arch, the largest in New Mexico. It is clearly visible just west of the road, about 20 miles south of I-40. A short trail leads directly underneath. La Ventana eroded from sandstone that dates back to the age of dinosaurs.

East of NM 117 lie some 62,000 acres of forested rimrock country, the Cebolla Wilderness (BLM) is rich in prehistoric petroglyphs and historic homesteads.

West Malpais Wilderness

West Malpais Wilderness (BLM) includes an area where lava surrounded and isolated a large stand of Ponderosa Pines. The ponderosa pine island is known as Hole-in-the-Wall.

El Malpais National Monument

Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center
1900 East Santa Fe Avenue
Grants, New Mexico 87020
(505) 876-2783
(505) 761-8771

The Visitor Center is open: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday through Friday. The Sandstone Bluffs Overlook closes at dusk. Closed on November 23, December 25 and January 1. The El Malpais Information Center is currently open 8:30 am to 4:30 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

No fees.

El Malpais map

Interactive Map of the Monument


El Malpais Visitor Center is south of Exit 85 off I-40 in Grants, New Mexico, which is about eighty miles west of Albuquerque. Two state highways provide access to the NCA and Monument and both are accessed via Interstate 40. Exit 89, east of Grants, will take you along NM 117 which traverses the east side. Exit 81, west of Grants, will take you along NM 53 which travels down the northwestern edge.

Road by La Ventana natural archThe Information Center is twenty-eight miles down Highway 53, south of I-40, Exit 81. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages the adjacent El Malpais National Conservation Area. The El Malpais National Conservation Area Ranger Station is 8 miles down State Highway 117, south of I-40, Exit 89.

The paved roads will accommodate any type of vehicle. The backcountry roads require high ground clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. Travel with any motorized or mechanized equipment must be on designated roads. The BLM allows mountain bikes, ATVs, dirt bikes, and horse travel on these roads. However, no cross country travel is allowed in the wilderness areas other than by stock animals or on foot.


El Malpais is located at elevations that range from 6,500 to over 8,000 feet in a semi-desert. Precipitation averages 10 inches annually with most of it coming from rainfall during the monsoon season (July-September). Thunderstorms are a common occurrence during the summer months and lightning poses a hazard to hikers. Summer temperatures range from 80-100 degrees during the day with nighttime temperatures between 40-60 degrees. Winter temperatures range from 30-50 degrees in the day and can dip below zero at night. Vegetation varies from low shrubs with piñon and juniper to ponderosa pine woodlands. Wildflower displays occur mainly in the fall after the summer monsoons, with a modest spring cactus and wildflower display. Wildlife includes a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In warmer weather, rattlesnakes are present in the canyons and under rocks. Please be alert.

Depending on the season, access to backcountry areas may be difficult. Many of the dirt roads become impassable after summer rains or winter snowfall. Please contact a park ranger at the El Malpais Visitor Center 505-876-2783 for current road and trail information.


El Malpais lava tube cave


You can enter volcanic underworlds with the proper equipment. El Malpais is home to several lava tube caves, with their fascinating geology and hidden ice formations. The National Park Service recommends adequate equipment: helmet, gloves and knee pads, fleece, waterproof and good sources of light. Don’t go alone. What part of delving into a lava tube alone in a wilderness area seems like a good idea?

In the El Calderon Area, the NPS manages the Junction Cave and the Xenolith Cave. In the Big Tubes Area, the NPS manages the Big Skylight Cave and Giant Ice Cave. All of these caves are open for exploration with a permit and the permits are free. Additional lava features nearby include Double Sinks, Bat Cave, and the El Calderon cinder cone.

Caving Permits

Lava tube caves await your discovery at El Malpais. A FREE cave permit is required to visit all caves in El Malpais National Monument. Cave permits can be picked up at the El Malpais Visitor Center at exit 85 on I-40 in Grants, NM, 7 days per week from 8 am-5 pm. You can also get permits at the El Malpais Information Center on Hwy 53 (open seasonally). Click here for the caving page.

An individual permit application may be completed in advance of your trip and brought to a park ranger at a visitor center to obtain a cave permit number. Groups of eleven or more need to call 505-876-2783 to reserve a date thirty days in advance. After making a reservation, a group permit application may be completed in advance of a trip and brought to a park ranger at a visitor center to obtain a valid cave permit number. If you are an experienced caver or group, be sure to read the cave decontamination information.

El Calderon Area

  • Junction Cave Good for beginners
  • Xenolith Cave – Most challenging
  • Giant Ice Cave – A small floor of ice preserved at the back of this cave.
  • Big Tubes Area – Accessible by forest road (at least when the weather cooperates…not always accessible). The Skylight cave and Four Windows cave is in this area, noted for lots of large lava tubes, some collapsed, created lava bridges strong enough to sustain pine trees. The caves are a short hike across the lava flow. Big Skylight is impressive.
  • Four Windows Cave – Named based on the small openings in the roof near the main entrance. Moss garden, lichen, ice stalagmites in the winter months.

Decontamination Protocol

Each cave system has its own unique ecosystem. There is no way to know how bacteria and fungus from one cave system will affect others. All of your cave gear needs to be decontaminated between cave systems. Procedures for decontamination. Save the bats! There is no decontamination procedure effective enough to allow gear from a White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) affected state to be used in a non-WNS affected state.


The Narrows Picnic Area has five picnic table sites (one of which is accessible via hard pack dirt by wheelchairs) and two vault toilets. At Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, a picnic table and a vault toilet are available. Each visitor center also has one picnic table, water, and restrooms. La Ventana Natural Arch also has a picnic table and two vault toilets.

Horseback Riding

There are numerous places for travel by horse or other stock animal. Contact staff at the visitor center for more information.

La Ventana natural arch next to El Malpais


Armijo Canyon Trail (BLM)

This is a pleasant hike, but it is very sandy. The trail winds among piñon and juniper trees and will take you to a very nice homestead. This is a designated wilderness area and is not accessible by bicycle.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (NPS & BLM)

A foot path here is part of the National Trail stretching from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide.

Hole-in-the-Wall Trail (BLM)

This is a wonderful hike for the avid hiker or backpacker. Accessing Hole-in-the-Wall trailhead requires hiking several miles across open plains and lava flows. Hole-in-the-Wall is a 6700 acre kipuka that consists of ponderosa pine and open rangeland surrounded by lava. This is a designated wilderness area and is not accessible by bicycle.

Homestead Canyon Trail (BLM)

The trail is a closed road 3 ¾ miles long connecting to the Sand Canyon Road.

Lava Falls Trail (NPS)

Explore lava features and plant adaptations unique to the McCarty’s flow, the youngest lava flow in El Malpais.

La Ventana Arch Trail (BLM)

The arch is visible from the road and the trail is only a few hundred feet long to a good view point. Along the way, you will be surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliff formations. The Trail is primitive.

Lobo Canyon Trail (BLM)

The trailhead is on the north side of the road and leads to a petroglyph area. The hike is approximately ¾ of a mile roundtrip.

Narrows Rim Trail (BLM)

Start from a trailhead located at the southern end of the Narrows Picnic Area, and follow a rock cairn trail or the edge of the cliff along the rim of sandstone. The views from the Narrows Rim are spectacular to say the least. Going to the far end a distance of 4 miles will result in excellent views of La Ventana Natural Arch.

Ranger Station Nature Trail (BLM)

Download Brochure

Located on the east end of the Ranger Station, the Nature Trail loops approximately 1.25 miles along a mesa rim.

Zuni Acoma Trail (NPS)

This ancient Puebloan trail follows a trade route between Zuni and Acoma pueblos. This small portion of the trail is a strenuous 7.5 mile one-way hike across four of the major lava flows in this region.


Mountain bikes are permitted on any of the backcountry roads that are not otherwise posted as closed, however, like motorized vehicles, mechanical bikes or equipment are prohibited from wilderness areas.

Scenic Geology

Big Tubes Area (NPS) | Lava tubes can be huge and this area is home to one of the longest systems in North America. A cairn route leads to Four Windows and Big Skylight Caves, and Caterpillar and Seven Bridges Collapses.

Chain of Craters (BLM) | A line of 30 cinder cones that resulted from magma finding a weak spot in the Earth’s crust and forming a rift of volcanoes (similar to Albuquerque’s rift volcanoes on the western horizon). The cinder cones formed 600,000-700,000 years ago.

Hole-in-the-Wall (BLM) | Part of the West Malpais Wilderness, this is an area where younger lava went around older lava flows leaving a ponderosa pine parkland and grassland called a Kipuka (Hawaiian term).

La Ventana Natural Arch (BLM) | The second largest of New Mexico’s natural arches, La Ventana, at 135 feet, was eroded from sandstone deposited during the age of the dinosaurs.

Sandstone Bluffs Overlook (NPS) | An easy drive on a gravel road leads to a ridge of sandstone above the lava flows. From here you are offered excellent vistas of the El Malpais lava flows and the surrounding countryside.


The Joe Skeen Campground has 10 primitive sites for campers. Visit their website or call them at 505-280-2918.

El Malpais, NCA offers free, primitive camping at the Joe Skeen Campground (11 miles south on 117, from exit 89 on I-40 and 2 miles south of the BLM Ranger Station). 10 campsites with picnic tables and a vault toilet. The National Park Service also allows primitive camping. A free permit is required, which you can procur at El Malpais Information Center on NM 53. There are campgrounds with more amenities near Grants and near El Morro. There are several campgrounds in the Mt. Taylor Ranger District.

Backcountry Byway

The Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway is a rough, albeit scenic, drive along County Road 42. This route provides excellent views of the Chain of Craters and access to the Continental Divide Trail.

Historical Sites

Sometime between AD 1000 and 1300, the Dittert Site was built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans, a Chacoan outlier community. The ruin is a two-story masonry structure with 30-35 rooms and a Great kiva.

Special Permits & Reservations

View from the sandstone cliffsEl Malpais National Monument has various permits that are required for certain activities within the park boundaries.

Educational Trips

All groups and students interested in caving at El Malpais need a caving permit. Groups are asked to notify the park at least 30 days in advance of their visit. Please call 505-876-2783 for more information.

Special Use Permit

Individuals or groups who wish to use El Malpais National Monument for a special purpose or event require a Special Use Permit. A Special Use Permit must be applied for and approved by the Superintendent. If you have questions, you may contact the Special Use Permit Coordinator at 505-285-4641 ext. 25.

Commercial Photography

Click here to read a summary of the commercial filming regulations and fees required by law – this document will answer many questions you may have about commercial filming and photography.

This activity includes, but is not limited to, any filming or photography intended for commercial public viewing or advertising, such as commercial still photography, motion picture photography, television commercials, and/or commercial videotaping. Please allow at least twenty-one days for processing. If you have questions, you may contact the Commercial Filming Permit Coordinator at 505-285-4641 ext. 25.

General Application

This includes, but is not limited to, weddings, large group picnics, sporting events, church services, public spectator attractions, entertainment, ceremonies, 1st Amendment activities (fee is waived), or anyone wishing to use a public address system. Please allow at least twenty one days for processing (ten days for 1st Amendment activities). If you have questions, you may contact the Special Use Permits Coordinator at 505-285-4641 ext. 25.

Research Permit

Anyone wishing to conduct research at El Malpais National Monument must first submit an online application through the National Park Service Research Permit and Reporting System. We will then review the application and notify you of our decision. Contact the Research Permit Coordinator at 505-285-4641 or email us for more information.

Click here to see a current list of research needs at El Malpais.

View of El Malpais from the sandstone cliffs


Bats & White Nose Syndrome

At least 14 bat species are found in the monument. Many depend on lava tubes for shelter, reproduction, or hibernation. Bat Cave is home to a summer colony of ~ 40,000 Mexican free-tailed bats, the only colony of its kind for hundreds of miles. Watching them fly from the cave at dusk is an awe-inspiring event. Bats are a critical part of the environment and provide great economic benefits. Many eat insects, including agricultural pests, saving American farmers millions of dollars in pesticides and crop damage annually. Fruit-eating bats pollinate the plants that provide us with cashews, bananas, coconuts, avocados, or tequila.

Bats are in peril from a European fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans that causes a disease known as White-Nose Syndrome that has killed over 6 million bats in the U.S. and Canada. To prevent the spread of this disease, all visitors requesting cave permits are screened for factors that make them a high risk for introducing the disease from their footwear or equipment. To learn more about bats, visit Bat Conservation International’s website: www.BatCon.org

Always take plenty of water

If you are hiking in the summer, you will need a lot of water, a hat and sunscreen unless you are a heat masochist. In July and August hiking the lava flows on a sunny day feels like being broiled under a magnifying glass. In the dead of summer, I suggest caving the lava tubes where the temperatures are consistently cooler, in the 50-60 degree range.

Rain & Road Conditions

Some of the dirt roads that head out into the wild, blue yonder rapidly deteriorate with water. If you are out there and it rains or snows, that could become a serious problem, even if you have four-wheel drive. The chance of another human showing up to help you during inclement weather…unlikely. It isn’t a good place to get stranded. There is no cell phone signal until you are close enough to Grants to pick up a tower. Check in at the ranger station or visitor center if you are heading into the backcountry. Walking on lava beds requires good footwear. The lava will shred normal shoes. Ankle support is a good idea.

Be Prepared

Any outing in El Malpais should include daypacks with water, snacks, rain gear, a first aid kit, and sunscreen. Visitors planning on hiking the lava terrain will need sturdy hiking boots. Exploring the lava tube caves requires being prepared with warm clothing, protective headgear, three sources of light, and leather gloves. Trails can be uneven and steep and even icy in the winter.

Touring El Malpais requires preparation. Bring the right vehicle. For example, a properly equipped four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is suggested if you plan on exploring more remote sections of the park. Take appropriate gear and clothing based on the season.

Interesting Places Nearby


Leave a Reply