Friday, July 25, 2014

El Malpais

Every weekend we are out and about exploring our new area. Right now I am shifting from using a Windows computer to using a Mac and am kind of using both so making blog posts has been a little more difficult. We have visited various hiking trails in the Jemez Mountains, Bandelier National Monument, assorted ruins, trails in the Sandia Mountains. We have gone biking on dirt and on the Rio Grande trails in Albuqueque. Last weekend we went to the El Malpais National Monument - or at least part of it! El Malpais is between Albuquerque and Gallup. It is a little over 2 hours to drive there from Placitas but the drive is interesting as the road heads out, like many roads here, into vast spaces of nothingness! We headed to the east side of the monument to visit the Sandstone Bluffs, La Ventana Arch and Lava Falls areas. We also headed to the Dittert ruins site in the Armijo Canyon. There are lava tubes 17 miles long and ice caves, petroglyphs, craters and over 231,000 acres of land that just can't be seen in multiple days let alone part of one. We tried to focus on this small section of the east side.

We headed to the BLM Ranger Station to get maps and advice. The guy there had all kinds of interesting information about the history of the area. We have found this to be the case with every ranger station. We looked at the exhibits, paired down what we hoped to do, and then headed out to the Sandstone Bluffs. The bluffs actually have a gate they close at dusk (theoretically) and you can drive right up to them. We thought this would be a great fast first stop. We got to the bluffs and were the only people there. We had lunch and started climbing around looking down at the huge lava fields that seemingly went on forever. There had been some recent rain and the tinejas (little rock depressions) were full of water. We looked around and then hatched the plan to climb down the cliffs to the lava field. This was easier said than done since there is no trail, but off we went making our way to the bottom.

Once at the bottom the fields of very hot black exposed-in-the-sun lava suddenly looked way taller than from above. From above everything looked flat. Once you went down and started walking around you realized you were climbing around on what kind of looked and felt like asphalt only sharper.

When we looked back we realized we were now pretty far away from the cliff base, at the bottom of a pretty steep cliff and now had over an hour's worth of climbing to get back up! We picked a route, did the climbing and made it back up. So much for a short little stop!

The next stop was the la Ventana Natural Arch. This is one of New Mexico's largest natural arches that is 135 feet tall. You can't really photograph the whole thing - it is just too big. Standing under it is pretty interesting though looking skyward at a big suspended piece of rock. We spent some time there before heading back to the car.

We had to skip the Narrows Rim Trail since it was hot and 8 miles and we were running out of time. Instead we headed to the Dittert Ruins. These are 1000 year old ruins of a 2 story tall Anasazi community of 30 or so rooms. We really only saw one small part of it. It was not marked so you kind of follow a dirt road to a "parking area" and then look for the arroyo which you cross and wander around looking for ruins. It took us a while even though it was only a little over a mile. Everything kind of blends in with the sun and there was not a trail to it. Meanwhile I got distracted in the arroyo taking photos of cracked mud - interested me more than the ruins photographically. BLM areas are always an interesting "2 track" dirt road adventure and we are amazed we actually end up in places.

Back to the car and then off to Lava Falls. This ended up being an interesting but hot several mile walk on the youngest lava in the area. Plants were trying to take hold and the lava had interesting swirls and folds. Walking in hot totally exposed sun on black stuff was kind of tiring but not too bad. On the way back the light was really great and trees cast long shadows on the rock walls. The light changes everything here making things that appear washed out in the strong daylight turn brilliant reds and pinks and peachy pastels in morning or evening. New Mexico is a really beautiful place!

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