I am off again on a trip Out West. I left early Monday, August 8 and arrived at my first destination Tuesday around noon.
Welcome to El Malpais.
(This is my first chance to post anything—not much internet where I’m at/where I’ve been.)
My plan was to more or less make it to Texas, hit a rest area and sleep for a bit, and then continue on. There was one minor problem. The rest area on the Oklahoma/Texas border was closed (because the state is broke, I suppose, and what do they care about people leaving the state?). However, the welcome area going the other direction was open. So I hit the next exit, turned around, stopped at the eastbound rest area, slept, and then in the morning went east until the next exit where I turned around again. Fortunately, they were pretty close in both directions.
I arrived at El Malpais, about 70 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. El Malpais consists of both the El Malpais National Monument (National Park Service) and the El Malpais National Conservation Area (Bureau of Land Management). It’s an area that had vulcanism as recently as 3,000 years ago. All this lava (and some volcanoes) intruded into a bunch of sandstone, so you have this huge lava bed between sandstone bluffs.
I stayed at a BLM campground, the Joe Skeen Campground, which, surprisingly, is free. It is also very nice.
Upon arriving, and after setting up camp, I had some time to go exploring, so I visited a site called, appropriately but not too uniquely, Sandstone Bluffs. The bluffs are about 300 feet high.
Here’s a map that shows it (on the left).
The campground is shown on the right.
What I wanted to do was try to descend to below the bluffs, walk north below them, and then when they lessened in height (they slope downwards to the north), climb up to them and return on the top.
It was amazing the number of people who just got to that parking lot loop, got out, took a picture or two, and then left. But that’s not what I do.
There was a spot that looked likely below the tip.
Note: when I started taking pictures I forgot that I had left my camera in a manual mode with weird exposure and f-stop parameters. So my early pictures were screwed up. I rescued them a bit by fiddling with their contrast and brightness, but that means that those pictures have a weird Instragram filter effect.
Here’s a bit of the gap that takes you down.
Here’s a better picture of the gap, which I took at the end of my hike.
If you look at the map, it shows a “Natural Arch” along the bluffs. This arch is below the top, so it cannot be seen unless you make the effort to go below. Here it is (in a bit of surrealistic glory).
The bottom of the bluff was like walking on a sandy beach. As the sandstone has eroded, it’s deposited sand over the lava nearest it. So it was pretty comfortable to walk on. Here I am on one of the paths.
Did I say it was comfortable to walk on? I lied! It was comfortable to walk on until I stepped on a cactus burr. And I ended up doing it a lot.
You see, when I first started hiking barefoot (in Ohio), I watched very carefully where I put my feet. If I wanted to see scenery, I stopped walking, to be safe. But then after a while I noticed that there really wasn’t anything dangerous, so I got in the habit of not watching where I put my feet so carefully. And that’s the habit I have now.
Down at the bottom of the bluffs were cactus burrs everywhere. Here’s a picture of just one variety.
Notice how it blends in. Notice the spines.
I spent a lot of my time below the bluffs pulling them out of my feet, before I finally managed to (mostly) break my Ohio training. And even then sometimes I’d miss seeing one. Ouch.
Eventually the bluffs got low enough that I thought a saw a way back up (still about 150 feet). When I made my way back to the rocks, I saw this little guy posing for me.
I was able to clambor up some rocks here. This is an instant when bare feet are invaluable. I could feel just what sort of grip I was getting on the rock. At one point I tried something just a bit too steep and I could tell immediately to stop and choose a different route.
About a third of the way up I took a picture of the route I anticipated.
That looks scary, but it was long and not too steep (edging up the face). But that’s not what I did, because right after taking that picture I saw a route directly up the face from where I was, and the final rock presentation at the top only had a lip of a few feet.
Once I got up top, I took this picture across the lava bed.
And here I am on top of the bluff, looking back (north) to where the bluffs get lower (and there are some towers separated from the main mass).
Of course, there are all sorts of plants I’m not familiar with looking pretty. Here’s one of the common cacti blooming.
A little farther along I nearly stepped on a snake that was lazing along the path. No, it’s not a rattlesnake.
And here’s one more shot of it.
I really don’t have internet access on this trip (just occasionally when I try to upload these blog posts), so I cannot look up what kind of cactus or snake those were. So feel free to chime in if you recognize something.
I thought this was a pretty good arrival hike for my trip.