National Monument: El Malpais in New Mexico

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico© 2009 New Mexico Tourism DepartmentLava tubes here became ice caves.

Ice Caves Rd. (Rte. 53), New Mexico

The main attraction of El Malpais (“the badlands”) is the stunning display of nature’s extremes at the Bandera crater and ice caves.

The phenomena were promoted for nearly 100 years by the Candelaria family, but in 1987 most of this area was absorbed into the newly created El Malpais National Monument, managed by the U.S. Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. However, the family continued to run its famous tours from its private ranch.

At a half-mile long and rising 150 feet, the dormant Bandera Volcano crater is a sight to behold. A trail runs the length of the crater and rises along with it. You’re already at an altitude of 8,000 feet, so be sure to take it easy. At the top of the trail up here, you are on the Continental Divide.

When the volcano erupted some 10,000 years ago, molten rock coursed down the mountainside and created many lava tubes as it cooled. Sections of tubes collapsed by an earthquake have formed small caves; with a temperature that never exceeds 31°F, ice has slowly accumulated in them. You can reach one of the ice caves by a short, level trail across a lava field.

Oddly enough, this strange, moonlike area draws an abundance of hummingbirds, best seen in July, when flowers are in bloom.

Open year-round except Sun., Mon., and holidays. Admission charged.

(505) 783-4774

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