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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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was there in 2009 and 2010 - just loved it. Thanks for the pictures.