El Malpais National Monument, NM

Author:

Daniel Shyles

Tuesday, March 18th 2014 

The next morning we packed up and drove on to Albuquerque for some New Mexican breakfast. Our diner of choice was Lollie's in a little offshoot from downtown. We got carne adovada with eggs, huevos rancheros, beef and bean sopapilla, chicharrones, and sweet rice for dessert. Yeah, we went all out. The waitress came to the table after our feast and exclaimed, “Man, you guys were hungry!”


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New Mexican food at Lollies!

After, we pressed on to El Malpais National Monument in west New Mexico, a huge and beautiful park featuring a wide array of geologic artifacts. On one side of the park are volcano tubes, caves and collections of obsidian... the other towering sandstone cliffs for miles around. We headed for the sandstone bluffs off of exit 89 (the park stretches between exits 81-89), and were advised in the ranger station that we would find free camping just up the road. We found our home for the night in Joe Skeen campground (free campsite with a fire pit, pavilion and picnic table courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management), and met the friendly camp host, Mike, a forty-something from Georgia with a long white beard, and a youthful personality. He's been traveling around the States with his wife over the past two years, picked up the camp host job in El Malpais about seven months ago, and is headed off to a new hosting gig soon. He set us up in site #3, and warned us that a guy might come by with a couple of oversized rabbits on a leash to reclaim his spot at site #3. “If he does, just tell him to talk to me.”

Following a quick set up we decided to explore the campsite's surrounding area. Behind our site was a steep, rocky incline leading to a ridge. We climbed up to find an expansive field of mesquite bushes, cacti, and other brushy flora.


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View from the ridge behind campsite #3, with our little red car visible below 

 



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Rachel stumbled upon a dried up bit of bone, likely from a scavenged meal

 

With plenty of daylight remaining, we took a drive around the sandstone bluffs in the area.


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A towering sandstone bluff to which a photograph only does minor justice

 

A few miles from Joe Skeen, we found one of the park's main attractions, the Ventana Arch. We checked out the arch from the main viewing area, then decided it would be best to climb the giant boulders laying about.


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An array of boulders gave way to a huge meadow tucked into the side of the ominous bluffs

 


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That's a hoodoo!

 

I got an itch and started to climb. I always need to climb.


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View from higher on the ridge surrounding the field

 

When we climbed up we discovered even greater bits and pieces than the arch... little caves carved out by the wind from giant boulders filled with sand soft as flour, a hoodoo or two, and overwhelmingly epic views.


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Naptime under the windswept overhang

 



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More treasures including a jawbone and bullet casing

 



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Playing in the soft sands

 


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Bye El Malpais. On to Arizona!

 

 

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