They called it El Malpais, the “badlands.” To early Spanish explorers, this land provided a substantial obstacle to travel.
Just 2,000-3,000 years ago, lava flowed through this part of northwestern New Mexico. When the molten rock cooled, the high desert winds began to scour the surface, carving ridges and cones into an eerie, blackened landscape.
El Malpais National Monument covers more than 350,000 acres of rugged rock, lava tubes, limestone formations, and ancient ruins. Manmade piles of stone, called cairns, dot the landscape—the only markers guiding present-day explorers across the craggy terrain.
There are no trails in the monument. Hikers, cavers, and campers must come prepared to find their way safely in and out of the park. Visit the information center first, for an overview of the geologic history of the region, maps of the area, and nine suggested routes through the park.