Tuesday, April 12, 2016

El Malpais

Overlook at Sandstone Bluffs

Lava field







Ventana Arch

Pano view of overlook at Sandstone Bluffs, taken by the Bear

El Malpais National Monument is located in western New Mexico, not far from the city of Grants. The term El Malpais comes from the Spanish word malpais, meaning "badlands." El Malpais is named for the rough and rocky landscape that developed because of ancient volcanic lava flow. This barren plain is covered in black igneous rock, making it difficult to traverse. The nearby grassland areas are dotted with cattle and sheep, as well as diverse wildlife, but historically, this area was quite inhospitable to exploration or development. Horses were injured on the sharp lava rock; if you were to hike here today (and many people do), you would be wise to wear good boots.

Across the lava field, you can see ancient cinder cones standing tall above the wide, flat expanse of black rock and scrub. You can drive along State Highway 53 for miles and miles through the monument, winding around long sandstone bluffs. The pale, smooth bluffs rise from the vast plain like ships on the sea. Some bluffs have interesting natural formations like Ventana ("window") Arch, a natural bridge carved by erosion from a huge wall of stone. The bluffs cast long shadows over the surrounding plain and the roadway. Cows graze in the sunny patches. On the day we were there, in late March, light snow fell and the shaded sides of the bluffs were frosted white.

If you go, bring your boots, wind-proof clothing and sun protection; it's very high desert territory. For all its desolation, El Malpais's history bears testament to the adaptability of life. While the Spanish tended to avoid El Malpais, the "badlands" of New Spain, later pioneers sometimes eked out a living in mining or farming. Native Americans continue to live nearby today. Plants and animals are tough here; some of the oldest Douglas fir trees on the planet live in El Malpais, and wildlife - including birds and deer - abounds in the open grasslands. The land is toughest of all, such that it became part of the culture, woven into stories passed down for generations. Early settlers of El Malpais sometimes called it "the land of frozen fire," in honor of its lava-rock landscape and sleeping volcanoes - a picturesque name, I think, for a place that is both exacting and starkly beautiful.

31 comments:

  1. Beautiful Jennifer. I hadn't known about badlands in New Mexico. We've been to the badlands of South Dakota many times. They are eerily similar. However your badlands actually seems to have a bit more green. :-). I always learn so much when I read your blog. You are a wonderful teacher.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  2. This post sent me to my atlas to look up Grants and I see the lava beds are marked too. Absolutely amazing topography, thank you so much for sharing the beauty and diversity of our world. And I see that you are not far (relatively speaking) from Santa Fe, the heart and home of railroading.

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  3. What an amazing place, strikingly beautiful. It fascinates me to see wildlife thriving in such harsh environments. And incredible that people have lived there. CJ xx

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  4. gosh what an amazing place. you could almost imagine it was on the moon.

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  5. Amazing photos - and well done to the Bear on the fab panoramic shot. I do love to see and learn about landscapes that are so very different to anything we have here in the UK. Thank you for the tour. xx

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  6. Goodness. It's when I see photos like these that I remember how absolutely HUGE your country is. England is like a teeny tiny green pea in comparison. But that landscape is so incredibly beautiful in all it's stark rawness. Xx

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  7. What a beautiful place. It is stark but there is a beauty in that too. A fascinating post, thank you for sharing a little bit more about your wonderful corner of the world :)

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  8. We drove by a lot of amazing rocky cliff things when we drove through New Mexico last summer. Thanks for sharing those images. We spent the night in Santa Rosa NM and the hotel desk clerk told us the only place in town to go for dinner was Joseph's Bar and Grill for a fun retro 50's style diner and good Mexican food. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  9. What a beautiful place! I like that name - land of frozen fire. It's very descriptive.

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  10. Startling natural structures...amazing to view, and somehow even though the land has a lonely feel about it for me, I get caught up in its majesty and find it invigorating to see! Thanks for posting, Jennifer. xx

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  11. Fascinating and although quite desolate, beautiful in its own way.

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  12. It must be a fascinating place to visit , it looks huge! I enjoyed reading about the lave field, I never knew such a place existed. xx

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  13. I'm fascinated by the vastness of your country and the wildly differing landscapes. Great post :-)

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  14. Badlands is a good name for such rugged inhospitable lands, but it certainly has a magnificent beauty too. Great photos!

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  15. Would love to see it, the UK is so tiny in comparison that we don't have vast landscapes like this. It amazes me that life always seems to adapt in these places despite their apparently inhospitable nature. Lovely photos Jennifer, thank you for sharing xx

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  16. What an amazing place Jennifer, as Jane said, we don't get that vastness here in the UK. It has a wild beauty that is wonderful and must be so much better when you are there! Thanks for sharing x

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  17. What a beautiful place, but it's hard to imagine anyone making a living there or wildlife thriving. It must be a harsh place to live.

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  18. I want to pack my bags and head west! It's been a long time since I've been to the desert and I miss it.

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  19. What a fascinating landscape! I visited a high desert many many years ago and I still remember the sheer beauty. x

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  20. Fabulous photos! Thank you for sharing, I love to see landscapes that are so different from where I live.

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  21. Hey Jennifer,
    In some ways this reminds me of the landscape of West Cornwall; rugged and sparse. But so beautiful. And ancient landscape, relatively unchanged. I was really struck by the empty roads. I guess there must be whole swathes of the US that are sparsely populated. I really enjoyed this post, Jennifer.
    Leanne xx

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  22. I really, really love the diverse landscapes of both New Mexico and Colorado. Gorgeous images! And interesting history.

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  23. Beautiful photos. So different from all the green and lushness of the Midwest. Looks so dry and desolate.

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  24. That is just gorgeous. We might go to the Badlands of North Dakota this summer. Seeing your pictures really ups my interest!

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  25. Gorgeous pics Jennifer. I love how the US always seems to have such BIG skies :)
    Jillxo

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  26. Your photos really are amazing. It would be something to see the huge bulk of these bluffs in person. Wonderful tour and narrative Jennifer!
    Wendy

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  27. Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you for taking us along on your tour and I enjoyed seeing your wonderful photos - thanks for sharing.
    Happy Sunday
    hugs
    Carolyn

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  28. Your beautiful photos reminds me of our visit to El Malapais. It is such an amazing place. Thank you for sharing.

    -Soma

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  29. What a dramatic landscape and I love your photos. The land of frozen fire is an apt name. xx

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  30. The land of frozen fire, what a romantic name for such a wild landscape. Great photographs and a very interesting post as alway Jennifer X

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