Thursday, June 21, 2012

El Malpais Ranger Station Nature Trail

The Ranger Station Nature Trail is a 1.25 mile loop behind the Highway 117 BLM Ranger Station in the El Malpais Conservation Area in northwest New Mexico. The Ranger Station is about 10 miles south of Interstate Highway 40 near Grants, New Mexico.

Following the trail clockwise, the route climbs 100 feet of elevation to the first level of mesa top. There is a trail guide that provides a map and general information without numbered stops. The trail climbs an additional 25 feet from north to south. There is a short side trail off the south end of the loop to an overlook point. The trail parking area is only open when the Ranger Station is open.

Once upon the mesa top, there are good views of the El Malpais lava flow and some of the mountains and mesas in the area. The main trees along the trail are One Seed Juniper, Pinon Pine, and Gambel Oak. There are also some Ponderosa Pines on some of the north facing slopes. Mt. Taylor is in the distance to the north, one of the sacred peaks of the Navajo.

The geology layer at the bottom is named the Zuni Sandstone from 160 million years ago. The top layer is the Dakota Sandstone from 80 million years ago. In between is an unconformity layer called the White Zone. Much of the rock that was once laid down here is missing.

The best mid June wildflower along the trail was this Tree Cholla cactus. The Ranger Station has a guide to the Native Plants of El Malpais for $3.00.

I didn’t see any large wildlife on this hike, but I saw this group of Elk later in the day on the nearby Sandstone Bluff Overlook road about 1 mile south of the Ranger Station.  My hike took 0:45 minutes on an 88 F degree mid June day.

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