Thursday, May 10, 2012

El Malpais Trip 2012 (Part 2)

This is the continuation of a trip I took at the end of April.  Day one had been getting up to my parents cabin in Alpine, AZ.  I now had to decided if I wanted a relaxing day reading motorcycles magazines on a comfy sofa or strike out to explore parts unknown.  I had investigated photos of the El Malpais National Monument before I left and it looked pretty cool.  Massive lava fields running right up to gigantic sandstone cliffs.  When would I get the chance again? El Malpais had to be visited!

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After a great breakfast of eggs and pancakes, thanks mom, I headed southeast towards the town of Reserve.  From there I headed east and then north heading out of the Gila National Forest.  You wind through a beautiful canyon climbing from ~6500 feet up to ~7000 feet as you exit the forest.
There was very little traffic coming out of the forest.  I think I saw only two motorcyclists heading the other direction.  I felt like I had the whole world to myself.
As I climbed up to ~7300 feet I had to pull over to put on some more thermal gear.  I was between the Agua Fria mountain and the Largo Mesa.  The three circular hilltops in the distance were quite unique.
I reached Highway 60 at the town of Quemado, NM.  After filling up the tank I continued north.  More long stretches of highway where I only passed one or two vehicles.  It wasn't long before I started seeing black blankets of rock off to the left of the road.  I had reached the lava fields of El Malpais.  I soon saw a sign that stated "El Malpais Lava Falls 1.5 miles" and pointed left to a dirt road.  I stopped in the middle of the road, don't worry I could see for miles in both directions, and sat there for a bit debating my hatred for driving on dirt with my strong desire to walk on volcanic rock.  I decided to chance it.  I'm including a Google maps satellite view.  I was heading north on highway 117 and you can see the soft squiggly white line in the middle of the map.  That's the dirt road I went over making my way to the parking lot which is the little white square just next to the black volcanic fields.

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And here I am after reaching the parking lot.  I was glad I had decided to risk it.
Oh ma gosh! Dirt on the tires! I actually don't care about getting the bike dirty.  My fear of riding on dirt comes from the fact that I think I'm going to lose traction and wipe out like I did coming back from Alpine last summer.
So there is a small trail that leads out into the fields.  I didn't really intend to go very far so I left all my gear on.  I may have been a bit excited about lava, so picture a kid piling out of the car and running wild.
Ok, so notice the pile of rocks, aka cairn. Since the lava prevented a nice trail from being formed you had to follow these piles of rocks.  Once you reached one you'd look around and spot the next one.  then you'd head out in that direction.  That was a problem for me..because I couldn't just stop at one.   I'd see the next pile off in the distance and say..ok..we'll go to that one and then turn around.   Then I'd get to the next pile and say the same thing again.
I was amazed with these huge cracks running through the rock. 
You could start to imagine the lava flowing over the surface.
 Notice how I still have my neck warmer on.  I also have on my thermal jacket liner and windbreaker.  It wasn't that cold out.
 More cracks!  This would be a bad time to drop the phone or camera.
Cairn number 3! Hey look the next one is way over there...we should really try to make that one before turning back.
And the cracks kept getting bigger!  Can you see the steam rising out of the lava fissures???
About a mile in there was a cairn with this little fellow sitting on top.  He's working the camouflage pretty good.
The same cairn with the lizard is in this photo.  Can you spot him?
At the end of the trail and you reach a bowl shaped arena where you're surrounded by ancient flows.  I picture the scene in Star Wars where Anakin gets carved up by Obi-Wan.
And the best for last.  You can almost hear the lava dripping down.
At this point I finally noticed it was hot! I started making my way back to the parking lot.  By the time I made it to the bike I was sweating like crazy.  I had to take 10 minutes or so and cool off.  Luckily I always carry water in the Renntec bag.  I use it on a cloth to clean my helmet visor as well as to drink when it gets hot.

That's quite a few pictures.  I'll continue day 2 tomorrow!


  1. Good choice puttering up to check out the lava fields. It is nice you had the area all to yourself too.

    I can imagine how hot those rocks can get from baking in the sun all day.

    Thanks for the link on El Malpais - who know that some of the oldest Douglas Firs on the planet were living with the monument. In amongst all that lava rock.

  2. Very brave of you to ride the dirt road to this place although you have had some not so good memories of wiping out.

    But I guess it was very rewarding. Being a hobby geologist lava fields have a strange attraction to me as well. Fascinating pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  3. @Trobairitz - I hadn't read that fact about the Douglas Firs until you pointed it out. Very Interesting!

    @SonjaM - I actually ended up getting my college degree in geology..after *cough cough* switching my major quite a few times:) So the lava field was very interesting to me as well. Glad you enjoyed it:)