Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 17: El Morro National Monument and El Malpais National Monument

We are starting to slow our roll, chill out, not rush.  That’s a good and a bad thing because our places to visit are constantly changing with our mood and it is impossible to satisfy all our curiosity with the limited amount of time we had.  Today we used Bernalillo as our home base and headed west. 

About one hundred miles west of Albuquerque is El Morro National Monument, an out of the way destination that happened to be in our book about the Colorado Plateau as a must see, and one of last of our Parks/Monuments on our Colorado Plateau checklist.  It was a total treat.  The monument is tiny but has a large amount of variety and plenty to see.  We took the two mile trail around the entire monument looking at petroglyphs, old Spanish explorer inscriptions (some with calligraphy-like signatures), U.S. military inscriptions, excellent geologic formations, a box canyon, vistas, and old Native ruins that included a square and round kiva.  It was a total treasure find and we were beaming with happiness as we pulled out of the parking area heading back east towards El Malpias.

El Malpias National Monument is basically a massive lava flow bordered on the west by craters and caves, and on the east by vistas and an arch.  The sky was clouding up and the ranger at the Visitor’s Center warned us that being on lava flows during thunderstorms was really dangerous because they are chock full of iron.  Point taken.  We decided to do a loop hike anyway and it ended being a fairly shitty hike, partly because there was an entire half mile that was on a lava field, and partly because the last mile was a hustle back to the car because the thunder started to roar.  Walking on a lava field is like walking on the worst loose, jagged stone you can imagine.  It’s a horrid experience.

So the west end of El Malpais was a suckfest, plus the thunderstorms had arrived.  Unfortunately the ranger also told us that we shouldn’t even bother going to the east side of the park if it was raining because the roads easily wash out.  What do we do?  Drive to the east side of course!  By the time we got to the east end we were in-between storm cells and the Sandstone Bluff views were beautiful, and the La Ventana Natural Arch was well worth the near 40 mile detour.  It made the end of the day a good one as we headed back east on I-40, blasting through thunderstorm cells and torrential downpours. 

This day is kind of the official end of our real Southwest U.S. experience as tomorrow we start to drift up towards the Four Corners and the transition to Rocky Mountain territory.  

Trails hiked: Mesa Top Trail Loop, El Caulderon Loop, La Ventana walk.

Total Miles:  6.5

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