El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

… was established 25 years ago today (1987).

El Malpais

This monument preserves 114,277 acres of which 109,260 acres are federal and 5,017 acres are private. El Malpais means “the badlands” but contrary to its name this unique area holds many surprises, many of which researchers are now unraveling. Volcanic features such as lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges and complex lava tube systems dominate the landscape. Closer inspection reveals unique ecosystems with complex relationships. Sandstone bluffs and mesas border the eastern side, providing access to vast wilderness.

For more than 10,000 years people have interacted with the El Malpais landscape. Historic and archeological sites provide reminders of past times. More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Indian groups, including the Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna,and Zuni, and the Ramah Navajo. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering herbs and medicines, paying respect, and renewing ties.

Despite the harsh lava landscape throughout most of the monument, El Malpais offers an array of fascinating surprises for the naturalist. Some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees on the planet can be found in the monument as can unusual and rare forms of cave life. Lizards and snakes adapt unique colorations to blend in with the basalt lava rocks. Flora clings to life in the seams of lava cracks, while bats emerge from caves and lava tubes to begin their nightly hunt for food. While you can get acquainted with many facets of El Malpais’ natural wonders right here, experiencing them firsthand by visiting the park is by far the best.

NOTICE: All caves in El Malpais National Monument are closed to recreational use.

This closure is due to a combination of factors: The outbreak of a fungal disease killing millions of bats called White Nose Syndrome; the need to prevent continuing loss of delicate geological formations, cave ice, and sensitive biological communities; and the need to implement a cave management program to sustainably provide visitor access to caves while protecting them for future generations of Americans.

El Malpais National Monument