Sunday, July 31, 2016

El Malpais National Monument, Grants, New Mexico

El Malpais is Spanish for "the badlands."  El Malpais National Monument encompasses thousands of acres of wilderness. El Malpais lies in the high desert lands midway between Gallup and Albuquerque.  To the east are lands of the Acoma and Laguna people; to the west are those of the Ramah, Navajo, and Zuni.

Our first stop was Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. Notice the variety of plants and the different striations of the sandstone.  It was really incredible being up on top of the bluffs.

Sandstone Bluffs overlooks millions of years of geologic history, from the 200-million year-old sandstone formed by ancient seas, to the 3000 year-old lava that borders the bluffs. From here, however, you see more than just rocks; you see a land that is part of the cultural history of the many people who have lived, and who continue to live alongside this land of volcanoes and sandstone.

Looking across the lava flows is a land rich in geological history and cultural history. American Indian, Spanish and Anglo cultures are all a part of the history of this place. From the Puebloan cultures who settled along the lava edges over 1000 years ago, to the Dust Bowl era homesteaders who came here in the 1930s, humans have had a long relationship with this land. Around A.D. 800, ancestors of today's Pueblo people started building small settlements along the edges of the lava flows. When the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, these settlements were no longer inhabited. However, the significance of this land to the American Indians is evident in the creation stories that have been handed down from one generation to the next. These stories help to tell how the lava flows came to be, as well as explain important life lessons.

The Pueblos of Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna as well as the Ramah Navajo all hold close ties to El Malpais and consider it not only an important part of their history, but also an integral part of their culture. Certain plants may be gathered for traditional uses and certain ceremonies may be held in the malpais. 

From the Sandstone Bluffs we drove down to La Ventana Arch. La Ventana Arch (Spanish for 'The Window') has been dated back to dinosaur times. The Arch's span is about 120 feet. La Ventana is the second largest arch in New Mexico, the largest being Snake Bridge near the town of Sanostee south of Shiprock.

From here we drove farther into El Malpais, through "The Narrows" to Narrows Picnic Area for lunch.  I was able to take pictures of some fabulous rock formations on the way.  What an incredible landscape there is in the Monument.

The Arch from a distance

Our picnic spot at the Narrows

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