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El Malpais National Conservation Area
Wildlife Watching > El Malpais National Conservation Area (NM) 
5 miles southeast of Grants and 80 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
El Malpais, (pronounced “Mall-pie-ees”), “the badlands” in Spanish, aptly describes the tens of thousands of acres of craggy lava flows, some up to 800,000 years old, that cover much of the 263,000-acre El Malpais National Conservation Area. The black basalt, far from lifeless, has been reinvaded by ponderosa pine and pinyon and juniper trees, as well as by various grasses and shrubs. This sparsely-vegetated, rocky terrain provides habitat for reptiles, small mammals, birds (including hawks and eagles), and coyotes. Two wilderness areas, West Malpais and Cebolla, encompass almost 100,000 acres. West Malpais Wilderness includes Hole-in-the-Wall, a large expanse of grasslands underlain by 700,000-year-old lava and surrounded by younger lava flows. Cebolla Wilderness is dotted with historic homesteads and archaeological sites that provide connections to the past.
From Albuquerque, take Interstate 40 west to Exit 89. Continue along State Highway 117 to traverse the east side of the conservation area. West of Grants, take Exit 81 along State Highway 53 to travel along the northwestern edge of the area.
Visitor Activities
Hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, plant viewing, wildflower viewing, historic site, archaeological site, scenic drives, geologic sightseeing, interpretation, caving, and rock climbing.
Special Features
La Ventana Natural Arch, one of the most visible and accessible features of El Malpais National Conservation Area, is a huge, sandstone arch carved by wind and water.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
The visitor center, restrooms, and picnic tables are accessible. Trails are gravel-packed, not paved.
Camping and Lodging
Primitive camping is encouraged for users of El Malpais. Developed, private campgrounds and other lodging are available in and near Grants, 5 miles northeast of El Malpais. Most of the developed campgrounds provide access for RVs.
Food and Supplies
There are no services on-site. Food and supplies are available in Grants and along Interstate 40.
First Aid
There is no first aid station on-site. Many park rangers are trained in limited first aid. The nearest hospital is located in Grants.
Additional Information
The area is open all year, but summer daytime temperatures can be high. July, August, and the first part of September receive the most rainfall and roads may be impassable at times. The best time to visit is during the autumn months. Lava is sharp and unforgiving; visitors should wear appropriate footwear and gear. Visitors should also respect private lands that are intermixed with public lands. Some back country roads are impassable when wet.
Contact Information
BLM - Grants Field Station
P.O. Box 846
Grants, NM 87020
Tel: (505) 287-7911              

El Malpais Map

La Ventana Arch

Pinyon- and juniper-studded sandstone soars into La Ventana, a high natural arch within the El Malpais National Conservation Area. (BLM New Mexico State Office)

Last updated: 10-23-2009