The Sandstone Bluffs at El Malpais National Monument

While it might not have looked like it when I took my 250 mile jaunt through the desert, this area is home to some downright gorgeous places.  One of them being El Malpais National Monument.  As I’ve mentioned, I lived in this area for a few years as a kid, and in fact, my childhood dog was named ‘Malpais’ after this place.  That means that I kind of, sort of, know something about my subject for a change, and won’t have to rely on Wikipedia to tell you about what is it that I’m showing you.  However, I did still give you the link if you’re so compelled.

El Malpais translates to ‘the badlands’, and it’s composed of a massive lava flow, I don’t know it’s size, but I know it takes up miles upon miles of the desert.  The lava flow was created by Mt. Taylor, a long-since dormant volcano maybe 30 miles from the national monument itself.

It erupted about 3 million years ago (ok, I learned that from a placard while I was there) and the lava formed some incredibly ragged and dramatic black volcanic rock fixtures as it cooled.  This is in stark contrast to the sandstone that composes the majority of the landscape in the area.

They call it the badlands for a reason; these lava flows are impassable except on foot, and even then it can get pretty hairy.  Luckily for this flip-flop donning passerby, just inside the park was an overlook that sits high on top a series of these sandstone cliffs.  An incredibly dramatic place in it’s own desolate, wild west sort of way, and a nice place to stop and look around…

You are here.

And here we are.

Decent view from up there. You can see for a mile or two.

Gorgeous up there, and I couldn’t have asked for a better day.  The weather has been a major plus this trip.  70’s and sunny the whole time.  The high desert (surprisingly, we’re probably at about 6,500′ elevation, give or take) has a pretty sweet climate.

Erosion is a pretty sweet sculptor, really.

So the black stuff down there is the exposed lava flow, if you hadn’t figured that out for yourself… You probably had.

Obligatory I’m-in-a-desert yucca shot.

A couple of examples of the volcanic rock they had up at the overlook.

And there’s your volcano, Mt. Taylor.

Found these little ruins by the side of the road not too far from the overlook.


I was a little bummed when I noticed this. Seeing as how I’m pretty sure angle iron wasn’t around when this was originally constructed, they’ve done some work on keeping it intact… Or as intact as it is now anyway. Still pretty.

And finally, some other little sandstone cliff I seen on the way down from the top of the other, bigger sandstone cliff.

That’s all for today…  I hope you enjoyed your little scenic overlook.  If for some reason you ever find yourself bored in Grants, New Mexico (hey, you never know) I strongly suggest you give the place a look.  More from my Southwestern excursion coming before long…

-B. Littleton


Filed under The Sights, The Sights of the Good Ol' US of A

2 responses to “The Sandstone Bluffs at El Malpais National Monument

  1. Beautiful photos – thanks for sharing!

  2. Pingback: The Road to La Ventana | Remarkably Unremarkable

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