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Date of visit:
September 26, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of El Malpais NM ...

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Immense lavafields
 Huge and fascinating
 Very popular
 No entry fee
 Many sites to explore
 Sandstone formations
 Hiking trails
 Natural arch
 Spectacular views
 Numerous volcanoes

[ Home ] [ Travel Page ] [ Acoma ] [ El Morro ] [ Bandera ]
Go to first part of trip - Acoma Pueblo
Go to second part of trip - El Morro National Monument 
Go to third part of trip - Bandera Volcano
El Calderon Crater & Flow
El Calderon

Near the crater

Near the crater
( #4 location on sitemap )
115,00 years ago, the earth began a series of eruptions that forever changed the landscape of this area.

El Calderon's eruptions started as the ground cracked open and formed fissures that sprayed lava into the air forming hills on the west and north sides of the present day cone.

Lava then began to fountain hundreds of feet into the air forming the cinder cone. Explosive blasts hurled volcanic bombs up to three feet in diameter over the rim of the crater.

A lava river poured from the mouth of the crater sweeping cinder several miles to the southeast.

Eventually, the fountains of lava that formed the cinder cone died down, but bubbly lava continued to overflow, forming the shield on the northeast side of the cone. This flow was rapid and fluid, traveling all the way to the present day intersection of NM 117 and Interstate-40, about 20 miles away. These long lava flows probably took several years to cover such a large area.

Slower moving channels of this rapid flow crusted over insulating the lava underneath it. Eventually, as the magma chamber emptied, the lava flowed out, leaving behind lava tubes. As some of these lava tubes cooled, the roof weakened and collapsed, leaving trenches and sink holes that can be seen from the trail.

Through this series of sometimes violent eruptions, a new landscape was created and remains a testament to our ever changing, dynamic earth. Even today the landscape continues to change as erosion breaks down the rocks and vegetation covers the flow.

Site Gallery 1 - El Calderon
El Calderon El Calderon El Calderon
Where Sharp Lava Meets Smooth Sandstone
The Lava Falls

Lavafield ahead

Standing on the lava field

Standing on the lava field
( #1 location on sitemap )
In satellite photo images of New Mexico, lava flows blanketing much of El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area look like a huge lake southwest of Grants. The imagery betrays only dominant landscape features-lava flows, mountain ranges, mesas that in reality mask a myriad of mysteries and wonders.

El Malpais means "the badlands" in Spanish and is most commonly pronounced el-mal-pie-EES. Its volcanic features include jagged spatter cones, a lava tube cave system extending at least 17 miles, and fragile ice caves. There is much good in these badlands; the area offers diverse natural environments and tantalizing evidence of American Indian and European history.

More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Indian groups, including the Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni, and the Ramah Navajo. These American Indians made their homes here and continue their traditional uses.

Paradoxically, the malpais landscape is at once primal, pristine, ancient, and surprisingly modern. Here is a living remnant of the Old Southwest entering the 21st century as virtual terra incognita, or unknown lands. With continuing research new knowledge is revealed. Lava that poured out of McCartys Crater established a new land surface 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. Elsewhere, ancient Douglas fir trees thrive in the midst of rugged lava terrain. The diversity of life tells a story of unique adaptation to a challenging environment. Past and present, myth and reality mix here and will continue to mix for centuries to come.

Many landscape features in El Malpais bear Hawaiian names because early scientific knowledge of volcanoes was devel-oped in the Hawaiian Islands. Kipukas are undisturbed areas that lava flows encircled but did not cover. These ecological islands of vegetation are living remnants of native plant and animal communities. Study of these kipukas will yield bench-mark information for restoring disturbed portions of El Malpais.

a'a lava    Pahoehoe lava    Cinders

Lava types bear Hawaiian names, too.

Smoother, ropy-textured lavas are pahoehoe, pronounced pah-HOY-hoy. Sharp, jagged lavas that rip up all but the sturdiest hiking boots are a'a, pronounced AH-ah. Smaller, broken-up lava is often simply called a cinder. By studying active volcanoes geologists can determine how similar features formed at El Malpais.

Site Gallery 2- Lavafield
Lavafields Lavafields Lavafields
El Malpais Natural Arch Area
( #2 location on sitemap )
Site Gallery 3- Natural Arch Area
Driving to the Narrows This way to 'The Window' Going to the arch
At the arch At the arch At the arch
At the arch At the arch At the arch
Sandstone Bluffs Overlook
This way to the overlook

Be advised

That's far enough ....

Standing near the edge
( #3 location on sitemap )
For more than 10,000 years people have interacted with the El Malpais landscape. While truly ancient Indian artifacts have been found, peak human occupation occurred between 950 and 1350. During this time El Malpais was at the fringe of a political and economic system centered in Chaco Canyon 80 miles to the north.

As participants in this system, the ancestors of modern Puebloans, sometimes called Anasazi, established outlier communities along the edges of the lava flows. When the Chacoan system collapsed in the late 1100s these outlying communities continued to thrive. Although the Anasazi left El Malpais by the mid-1300s they did not disappear.

From here they moved to the Acoma area and established a new home-land. In 1540 Coronado's expedition encountered two major Indian pueblos - Zuni and Acoma - flanking El Malpais. When New Mexico became an U.S. territory in 1848, Anglo explorers saw El Malpais as little more than a hindrance to travel.

Anglos did not move into El Malpais in significant numbers until the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Many were homesteaders or sheepherders escaping the flood of immigration to other parts of the West.

Throughout the centuries El Malpais has posed an unrelenting challenge for Indian, Spanish, and Anglo travelers. Today ancient trails serve to remind us how those who crossed this rugged landscape persevered.

Site Gallery 4- The Sandstone Formations
On the bluffs On the bluffs On the bluffs
On the bluffs Training session Training session
For More Information
Discover Grants, NM
El Malpais National Monument (National Park Service)

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