El Malpais National Monument is a National Monument located in western New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States. The name El Malpais is from the Spanish term Malpaís, meaning badlands, due to the extremely barren and dramatic volcanic field that covers much of the park's area.
It is on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways.
Geography and Geology:
The lava flows, cinder cones, and other volcanic features of El Malpais are part of the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, the second largest volcanic field in the Basin and Range Province. This volcanically active area on the southeast margin of the Colorado Plateau is at the intersection of the Rio Grande Rift Basin, with its deep normal faulting, and the ancient Jemez Lineament. These two features provide the crustal weaknesses that recent magmatic intrusions and Cenozoic volcanism are attributed to.
The rugged Pahoehoe and A'a' lava flows of the Zuni-Bandera eruptions (also called the Grants Lava Flows) filled a large basin, created by normal faulting associated with the Rio Grande Rift, between the high mesas of the Acoma Pueblo to the east, Mt. Taylor to the north, and the Zuni Mountain anticline to the northwest. Vents associated with these flows include Bandera Crater, El Calderon, and several other cinder cones; more than a dozen older cinder cones follow a roughly north-south distribution along the Chain of Craters west of the monument.
El Malpais has many lava tube caves open to explore (unguided) with a free caving permit, available at NPS-staffed facilities. There are currently four caves accessible by permit: Junction and Xenolith caves in the El Caldron area, and Big Skylight and Giant Ice caves in the Big Tubes area. From December 2010 to June 2013, all caves were temporarily closed to recreational use to protect bats from the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) until a permitting process, including visitor screening for WNS, could be implemented.
The La Ventana Arch is an easily accessible huge sandstone natural arch just outside the monument down State Highway 117. A nearby scenic overlook at Sandstone Bluffs offers spectacular panoramic views over the monument's lava flows.