The El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) was established in 1987 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The adjoining El Malpais National Monument (Monument) was also established at the same time and is managed by the National Park Service. The 231,230 acre NCA includes two BLM-managed wilderness areas — West Malpais and Cebolla — covering almost 100,000 acres.
El Malpais translates to "the badlands" in Spanish and is pronounced Mal-(rhymes with wall)-pie-ees. El Malpais NCA was established to protect nationally significant geological, archaeological, ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness resources surrounding the Grants Lava Flows.
In addition to the two wilderness areas, the NCA includes dramatic sandstone cliffs, canyons, the La Ventana Natural Arch, the Chain of Craters Back Country Byway, and the Narrows Picnic Area. There are many opportunities for photography, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing within this unique NCA.
For more than 10,000 years people have interacted with the El Malpais landscape. Historic and prehistoric sites provide connections to past times. More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Indian groups, including the Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, and the Ramah Navajo. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering plant materials, paying respect, and renewing ties.
Location / Access
El Malpais is located south of Grants, NM and 80 miles west of Albuquerque. Two state highways provide access to the NCA and Monument and both are accessed via Interstate 40. Exit 89, east of Grants, will take you along NM 117 which traverses the east side. Exit 81, west of Grants, will take you along NM 53 which travels down the northwestern edge.
The paved roads will accommodate any type of vehicle. The backcountry roads require high ground clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles, and the condition of some primitive roads requires such vehicles. Mountain bikes, ATVs, dirt bikes, and horse travel are also allowed on these roads. Travel with any of the motorized or mechanized equipment must be on designated roads; no cross country travel is allowed in wilderness areas except by stock animals or foot.