El Malpais National Monument - New Mexico

September 25 , 2015 - Interstate 40 is the main east-west highway into the region. Exit 89, east of Grants, puts you onto NM Highway 117 which travels the eastern boundary of the park. The BLM's El Malpais Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of this exit and is open daily.

The primeval black basalt terrain of El Malpais was created by volcanic forces over the past million years. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations. This stark landscape preserves one of the best continuous geologic records of volcanism on the planet.

The El Malpais lava flows are of different ages and origins. The youngest is the McCarty's Flow, which is roughly 3,000 years old and can be seen on the east side of the monument along Hwy 117. The flow creates a stunning landscape in the Lava Falls area and the Lava Falls Loop Trail offers visitors an up close look at many pahoehoe lava features. The oldest volcanic rocks in the area are hard to see - dust, soil, and plants have covered them. However, the cinder cones of the Chain of Craters are still impressive for their 0.6-0.7 million year age. Mount Taylor and associated lava flows, northeast of the monument near Grants, are even more ancient at 1.5 to 3.3 million years old.