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Date of visit:
April 1, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of Valley of Fire National Recreation Area ...

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Very popular
 Crowded at times
 Modest entry fee
 Moon-like landscape
 Bring sunblock SPF30
 Many hiking trails
 Broad lava flows
 Malpais Nature Trail
 Gift shop
 Many picnic sites


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Go to first part of day trip - Trinity Site
Go to third part of day trip - White Oaks Mining Town
Valley of Fire Recreation Area
Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire
Valley of Fires Recreation Area ... on at least two occasions, lava flows covered the valley with at least one of the flows originating from Little Black Peak. The flow acted as a barrier to early Spanish explorers and travelers who called the area malpais or badlands. Despite the name, the malpais is abundant with life, scenery, and scientific interest waiting for exploration.
Area Geology
The Malpais
The Malpais

Lava flow

Lava flow
The Malpais dominates views of the Tularosa Valley. This may be the youngest lava flow in the continental United States. Scientific evidence tells us that the most recent flow occurred 1500 to 2000 years ago.

The lava spewed from volcanic vents in the northern end on at least two occasions and flowed south along the floor of the Tularosa Valley for 44 miles (71 km.) As the molten lava flowed southward, it covered the original valley floor of gypsum and stream gravel. Occasionally it would surround areas of higher ground, forming islands. These islands of older rocks are called kipukas. The recreation area campground is on a large kipuka made of sandstone.

Smooth or ropy-looking pahoehoe (a Hawaiian name for very fluid lava) covers over 125 square miles. Scattered throughout are a few small areas of aa (pronounced ah-ah, an Hawaiian name for blocky lava). The lava is more than 160 ft. deep near the center. Little Black Peak marks the origin of at least one major flow and its cinder cone is the result of an explosive episode that interrupted the steady out-pouring of lava.

The lava surface is so extremely rough and broken that it is impossible to cross except on foot. It contains pressure ridges, extensive fissures, pits, collapses, and lava tubes and rock shelters.

Area History
A cold day on the Malpais
A cold day on the Malpais
Prehistoric humans also found shelter here and undoubtedly collected plant food and fiber and hunted and trapped animals. Petroglyphs pecked and inscribed into the rock surfaces along the edges of the flows, and occasional bits of pottery testify to visits by native Americans of the Jornada branch of the Mogollon culture during the period until about 1400 AD.

The region subsequently was to become the domain of the Mescalero Apache, whose resistance to intrusions of emigrant settlers led to establishment of nearby Fort Stanton in 1855.

The vast open rangelands extending eastward across the Pecos into Texas attracted cattlemen such as John Chisum, whose brand was registered in Lincoln (then the County seat) in 1869. Rising tensions between factions of ranchers exploded into the Lincoln County Range Wars.

Beginning in 1878 and ending 3 years later, the violence left the leaders of both factions dead and bestowed everlasting prominence to all of the participants like William "Bill the Kid" Bonney. In the more peaceable years that followed, ranching, mining, farming, and railroading became the principle activities in the development of the area.

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