A couple of weeks ago, I took a drive
out to El Malpais and hiked a new-to-me trail, The Narrows Rim Trail. It seems likely that this trail leads to an overlook opposite La
Ventana Arch, but I didn’t make it that far.
Driving down 117, I made a brief
stop at the Visitors Center (cell service but no wireless). I passed the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook (you should stop, if you’ve never
been). I paused at La Ventana but didn’t get out. Then, about 3 miles later, I pulled over to the left to the not terribly well-marked
picnic grounds (it’s just before things suddenly open up to the left).
gain. The trail has lots of cairns and alternates sandy and rocky. Following the rim in many places, you have spectacular views out over
the lavaflows to the west and to the mountains beyond. This area has many stunted ponderosas whose twisted trunks attest to the steady
There is an elaborate marker at 2 miles. I turned back around 3 miles and I’m guessing (from maps) that it is not 4 miles
to the end of the trail. I was probably close to the end, but afraid of staggering back under a full moon.
Not too much farther
south on 117, to the right, is the Lava Falls Trail. If you never have hiked on lava, this is a good place to get started with a 1 mile
loop. The “falls” themselves disappointed me, but I loved the scramble beyond them to a kind of amphitheater.
Of course, there is
also the Zuni-Acoma Trail, 7 1/2 miles across a narrow part of El Malpais. It’s truly wonderful. With more ponderosas, some quite large,
it is much greener than one expects (but, definitely not a summer hike). If you don’t have time for the full ZAT, you get to lava sooner
from the east end.
On my drive back, I left pavement near the Visitors Center at a turn I’ve never noticed before to discover a
BLM campground of about 10 sites widely separated (but virtually no visual separation). There’s a modern outhouse; probably tables and
grills, but I can’t seem to recall. This spot has a nice view of the cliffs but not the lava (I think). It’s a bit close to the road,
but I bet it’s quiet late at night. I’ll be back for an easy overnight close to home.
A few days later, when Albuquerque didn’t
get a storm that was teasing us, that storm passed right over this area. As did another a week or so later. Snow on lava is a very cool
thing to see. mjh
Park Service’s El Malpais website (map as PDF).