El Malpais National Monument

Useful Information

Location: El Malpais National Monument Visitor Center (National Park Service), 1900 E Santa Fe Ave., Grants, NM 87020.
100 km west of Albuquerque. Park sights can be found along NM 53 and County Road 42. El Malpais Information Center is located 37 km south of Grants, on NM Highway 53.
(34.992890, -108.036660)
Open: El Malpais National Monument: no restrictions.
Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center: winter daily 8-17, summer daily 9-18.
Fee: free.
Classification: Speleologylava tube
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: V=100,000/a [2022]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: El Malpais National Monument Visitor Center (National Park Service), 1900 E Santa Fe Ave., Grants, NM 87020, Tel: +1-505-876-2783.
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 a rather young lava flows and barren, which caused the name of the National Monument, El Malpais, the Spanish term Malpaís means badlands. The lava flows are between 115,000 to 3,000 years old. In the basaltic rocks there are numerous lava tubes, five lava tubes are open to the public. Several caves are located at the Big Tubes Area, which is reached on CR 42. The caves and various other volcanic features can be seen along a trail. The Lava Bridge is the remnant of a lava tube forming a natural bridge. 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 or Junction Bridge Cave is located in El Calderon Area, just off of NM 53 east of the Visitor Center. The cave entrance is a short walk from the parking area, the cave is 1.6 km long. The visit is a moderately difficult hike, hunching over or clambering around boulders. The ceiling at the entrance to Junction Cave is low and requires stooping, but inside it gets higher. Being a lava tube, there is just a single passage which may be visited to the end. However, there is also one short side passage.

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 visits rather easy. The cave has gypsum and calcium speleothems, in winter 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, no trails or electric light. 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, a helmet, at least three sources of light, sturdy footwear, and leather gloves. The equipment is checked by the park rangers. Never hike or cave alone.

All the caves were closed to the public because of the White Nose Syndrome about 15 years ago, and they were closed for many years. As far as we know, there are no restrictions any more, nevertheless, it is essential to clean shoes, clothes, and gear which was used in any other cave with great care before using it in these caves. Use hydrogene peroxide (H2O2) for cleaning because it will decontaminate clothing, shoes, and gear.

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.