Friday, April 1, 2011

Acoma-Zuni Trail in El Malpais

The Acoma-Zuni Trail is an ancient 7.5 mile route that connects the pueblos of Acoma and Zuni across part of the lava flow area of El Malpais National Monument in northwest New Mexico.

I started at the east trail head, 15 miles south of I-40 on New Mexico Route 117. This trail head is in the vicinity of La Ventana  Arch. The first 10 minutes or so of hiking are on a normal seeming trail before arriving at the first lava flow segment.
The hiking slows down crossing the uneven and sharp rocks of the lava flows. The way is well marked with rock cairns but the volcanic rock piles are so similar to the natural terrain that it is hard to see them. In some cases the markers are only 10 yards apart and still tricky to pick out. The trail head advice is not to get out of sight of one marker without seeing the next one.
It took me 15 minutes to cross the first lava flow, and then I spent 30 minutes on the next normal trail segment, weaving between lava outcrops. This segment of trail has some sandy footing such that walking on the Acoma-Zuni Trail isn’t easy nearly anywhere. Concrete markers appear that say Escalante Trail. These were installed around 1976 to honor the 200 year anniversary of the Escalante Dominguez Expedition. The concrete markers seem odd, but they are easier to see than the rock cairns.
After 1:00 hour total of hiking I arrived at another larger lava flow area. There are many crevices in the lava and the trail usually has small bridges of rocks or juniper logs to fill the gaps. Some of these bridges and cairns were built by the Ancestral Pueblos hundreds of years ago. I might have passed some pottery shards along the trail but was so distracted by the difficult walking, that I didn’t really notice them.
There are some views along the trail where Mt. Taylor or the El Malpais Sandstone Bluffs are visible over the lava flow. It is surprising how much grows in this rocky wilderness. The Pinon Pines and Junipers, shrubs, and even Ponderosa Pines take root in this rough rocky area.
I continued into the second lava flow area for 0:30 minutes and then turned around. My return hike took 1:30 hours for a total of 3:00 hours. I think I went about 2.5 miles into the area for a total of 5 miles. It was 43 F degrees at 11:00 AM when I started and 56 F degrees at my 2:00 PM finish on a late March day.

On a cool day I didn’t have a problem with water, but the advice about wearing sturdy shoes is solid. Both of my hiking boots had tears in the soles at the end of my hike. Gloves are good advice also, as the rock surfaces are sharp when reaching for support.