Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bandera Volcano Trail-El Malpais

The Bandera Volcano Trail is located a few miles to the east of El Moro National Monument along Highway 53 in northwest New Mexico. It is a privately owned attraction with a $10 entrance fee. This area is known as the El Malpais region, an area of lava flows and volcanoes.

The starting point for the Bandera Volcano and the shorter Ice Cave Trail is the Old Time Trading Post. The trading post was built in the 1930s during the period when the Zuni Railroad was operating and the timber industry was booming. The trail is like a wide cinder covered road and there is a trail guide with markers along both trails. The hike to the volcano is about a 1.5 mile round trip and the Ice Cave is another 0.5 mile round trip.

One of the points of interest along the volcano trail is a spatter cone. These are formed when a minor vent of hot air breaks through to the surface to form a blow hole.

The volcano trail winds around the outside of the crater and enters through an opening where the lava tube formed and lava flowed out the side. The Bandera Crater is the largest in the region and erupted about 10,000 years ago. The lava flow is nearly 23 miles long. The crater here is 1400 feet wide at the top and 800 feet deep with the trail lookout point about 330 feet below the rim. It is interesting that the lava and cinders can support forest growth. This area has Ponderosa Pines and a few Douglas Firs mixed in with Pinon Pines and Junipers.

The path to the Ice Cave passes through a similar forested landscape on top of a lumpy lava surface with sink holes and lava tubes. At the Ice Cave there are uneven wooden stairs leading down into deep hole, with the air getting noticeably cooler with each step. Cold air settling into the hole and the thick insulation keeps the bottom frozen year round. In the early years of the trading post this cave was a source of ice to keep the beer cold.

The ice is thought to be 20 feet thick and the green color is due to a cold tolerant algae. The oldest ice at the bottom is thought to be 3400 year old. It took me about 1 hour to walk these two trails

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