Thursday, March 31, 2011

El Malpais Sandstone Bluffs

The Sandstones Bluffs Overlook is 10 miles south of I-40 along New Mexico Route 117 on the east side of El Malpais National Monument in northwest New Mexico. The overlook emphasizes the geologic history of the area. Although no trails are shown on park maps, there is room for hiking here.

The view to the west is toward the Chain of Craters, a line of volcanoes that are 110,000 to 200,000 years old. Below the overlook, the waves of McCarty’s black lava flow, only 2000 to 3000 years old, weave through a Pinon and Juniper forest. From the overlook area, it is easy to walk north along the bluffs following an unmaintained trail.

The views to the northwest are the Zuni Mountains. The sandstone cliffs were formed by deposits in shallow seas from 63 to 138 million years ago. The brochure for the area mentions that there are small sandstone arches and archaeology sites in the area. I walked slowly and scanned the area below for ruins sites, but didn’t spot anything. It looked like there is a trail along the base of the cliffs, but there isn’t a marked way or any apparent easy way down.
About 0.5 miles north along the way, there is a side trail to the Garret Homestead site, built between 1935 and 1937. The interpretive sign at the overlook mentions a second homestead site called the Alben Homestead that I didn’t see along where I hiked. Preserving these sites is part of the Park Service Vanishing Treasures program.

There are views in this area toward Mt. Taylor, described as a composite volcano active 3.5 million years ago. Mt. Taylor is one of the four sacred peaks of the Navajo. The mesa top terrain here is Pinon Pines and Junipers without many shrubs except for the tall cactus that I think is called Cholla.

In some of the rocky areas below there are some Ponderosa Pines. I hiked along the rim for about 1 mile and returned using 1:30 hours. My hike was on a 60 F degree late March afternoon.

On a visit on June 18 at about 5:00 PM, I sighted a small group of elk in this area.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

La Ventana Arch

La Ventana Arch is New Mexico’s second largest natural arch with a span of 135 feet. The short 0.5 mile round trip trail is 18 miles south of I-40 on New Mexico route 117 on the east side of El Malpais National Monument in northwest New Mexico.

At the trailhead there is an interpretive sign that shows a map of the area that includes the El Malpais National Monument and the adjacent Conservation Area and the Cebolla Wilderness.

The afternoon light strikes the arch formation directly. There is a note at the trail head to wear sturdy shoes for the steep and rocky segment of the trail, but that segment directly below the arch is closed.

A short distance down the trail is another interpretive sign that discusses the formation of the Zuni sandstone layer and the processes that formed La Ventana Arch. The arch is on the north side of an inlet in the sandstone cliffs. The floor area in front of the arch has Pinon Pines and Juniper trees with open areas of grasses and shrubs. For energetic hikers, the 4 mile Narrows Rim Trail ends on the cliffs across from La Ventana Arch.

The viewing area below La Ventana is fenced and the area beyond is closed, so no blue sky angle is available.

This short hike only takes about 0:20 minutes. There are several other hiking opportunities in this part of the El Malpais area.