Friday, June 22, 2012

Lava Falls Trail-El Malpais

The Lava Falls Trail is a 1.2 mile route that explores the McCarty Lava Flow area in El Malpais in northwest New Mexico. The Lava Falls area is about 30 miles south of Interstate Highway 40 on Highway 117, east of Grants, New Mexico.

There are some interpretive signs at the trailhead area. The trail has numbered stops but I didn’t find a printed guide at the trailhead. The McCarty Lava Flow is 3000 years old making it the youngest in the El Malpais area. McCarty Crater, the source of the flow is to the northwest. The route is marked with large cairns, but they resemble the natural terrain so well that they are sometimes hard to spot.

The trail is a loop with a short side trail into a crater. I followed the loop clockwise to the crater, but didn’t see the junction of the side trail with the loop and ended up returning the way I came. I looked for the other side of the loop at the trailhead but had trouble there also. In any case, the distance is the same.

There is a surprising amount of vegetation that grows on the lava flows. The trailhead information says that while the trees look young, they are actually stunted and gnarled due to the harsh conditions.

The name Lava Falls comes from a small fall of lava as it dripped over a cave. The younger lava flow passed over and older flow. Maybe that is what is pointed out at stop Number 4. To the left some lava appears to be dripping over the ledge. Some of the other features to look for include “squeeze ups, lava toes and blisters.”

Stop Number 5 is at the entrance to a crater with trail continuing to the back. Maybe this crater is the source of the flow.

The return part of the loop may pass along this lava canyon visible from stop Number 3, but I couldn't spot the markers on the other side.  It took me about 0:30 minutes to arrive at the turn around point. The return hike took 0:20 minutes and I spent another 0:20 minutes looking for the segment that I missed, for a total of 1:10 hours.  

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