"El Malpais: Lava Falls" Grants Things to Do Tip by toonsarah

Grants Things to Do: 4 reviews and 11 photos

  Daisies and lava
by toonsarah
  • Daisies and lava - Grants
      Daisies and lava
    by toonsarah
  • Lava with wildflowers - Grants
      Lava with wildflowers
    by toonsarah
  • The lava field - Grants
      The lava field
    by toonsarah

El Malpais National Monument is divided into two sections, of which we only visited one ? the one alongside Highway 117 more or less due south of Grants (the other lies to the west and is accessed via Highway 53). Entering the park from the south we weren?t able to stop off first at the Visitor Centre, so relied on the information in our Moon Handbook to New Mexico and my pre-holiday research.

Our first stop was at the Lava Falls trail-head, where a trail leads across the McCartys flow, the result of a series of eruptions of nearby McCartys Volcano around 3,000 years ago. Here you can pick up a leaflet about the trail. We decided against doing the full length of it as we had only limited time in the park. Although this trail is only a mile in length you do need to take your time here as the route is marked out by cairns and you have to navigate carefully, only leaving one cairn when you are sure you can see the next ahead of you.

But we did walk the first few hundred yards in order to really appreciate this unreal landscape. As soon as you get beyond sight of the small parking lot you are surrounded by lava and it can seem quite disorientating. The lava here is relatively ?young? in geological terms, having been deposited just 3,000 years ago. Even in a short stretch of the trail you can see various formations which are described in the leaflet - Ropy Pahoehoe (smooth basalt with lines like rope), Lava Toes (small lobes of lava formed when hot lava breaks out of semi-hardened lava), A?a (rough broken basalt), pressure ridges and more. As the leaflet explains:
?Cracks, ripples and bubbles tell a more intricate story. When lava spilled out of McCartys crater, it did not just settle over the ground in a smooth, even layer. It was a dynamic force that took on distinctive features as it flowed over the land. Pressure ridges collided and cracked; collapses sunk into empty cavities; squeeze-ups pushed their way to the surface through weak spots.?

What fascinated me more than the different formations however, was the way in which plants had made a home in what seemed to be a totally inhospitable environment. There was no sign of soil, yet grasses and flowers peeked from every crevice, and lichens crept across bare rocks. These also served to make my photos more interesting (I hope!) as black lava alone can look very dull.

Directions: On Highway 117 near the southern boundary of the park (look for a sign on the west side of the road)
Website: http://www.nps.gov/elma/index.htm

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Nov 7, 2011
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