El Malpais National Monument

Useful Information

Location: 100 km west of Albuquerque. Park sights can be found along NM 53 and County Road 42.
Open: Caves currently closed because of WNS.
El Malpais National Monument: no restrictions.
Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center: winter daily 8-17, summer daily 9-18.
Fee: Caves currently closed because of WNS.
El Malpais National Monument: free.
Classification: Speleologylava tube Geologyarch
Light: bring torch
Guided tours:
Address: El Malpais National Monument, 123 East Roosevelt Avenue, Grants, NM 87020, Tel: +1-505-783-4774.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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El Malpais National Monument is located in western New Mexico and part of the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, the second largest volcanic field in the Basin and Range Province. This area is covered by rather young lava flow and extremely barren, which caused the name of the NM, El Malpais is from the Spanish term Malpaís, meaning badlands. In the basaltic lava there are numerous lava tubes, which are open to the public. Several cave are located at the Big Tubes Area, which is reached on CR42. The caves and various other volcanic features can be seen along a trail. The Lava Bridge is the remnant of a lava tube. The hike is rather strenuous. Another trail with caves is in the El Calderon region. The trail is a 5 km long loop, which passes a crater, a cinder cone, a lava trench and several caves.

Junction Cave is located in El Calderon Area, just off of NM 53 east of the visitor center. The cave antrance is a short walk from the parking area, the cave is 1.6 km long.

The Four Windows Cave is located in Big Tubes Area, off of County Road 42. It was named for the four openings at the entrance. The floor is fairly smooth which makes vists rather easy. The cave has gypsum and calcium speleothems, in wither it has ice stalagmites.

Big Skylight Cave is located in Big Tubes Area, off of County Road 42. It was named for its large entrance, a skylight or collapsed ceiling. The floor is covered with debris from the ceiling, making footing extremely uneven.

The caves at El Malpais National Monument are in a natural state, there are no developments. The visit is possible only with a permit from the Visitor Center, where you can also get additional info on the caves. It is important to bring warm clothing, protective headgear, at least three sources of light, sturdy footwear, and leather gloves. The equipment is checked by the park rangers.

All the caves have been closed to the public because of the White Nose Syndrome. This is hopefully a temporary closure, but its end is in the moment unclear.

The most impressive sight of the park is the La Ventana Arch, a huge natural arch and the largest in New Mexico. It is located in sandstone, which forms a long sandstone escarpment with cliffs up to 140 m high east of the lava field. NM 117 runs along the base for 25 km and is access to the arch and to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook.