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El Malpais National Conservation Area

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The El Malpais National Conservation Area was established in 1987 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The adjoining El Malpais National Monument was also established at the same time and is managed by the National Park Service. The 231,230 acre NCA includes two 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, 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 and Zuni, and the Ramah Navajo. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering plant materials, paying respect, and renewing ties.


Guided Programs

Ranger guided walks and other activities are offered throughout the NCA. Schedules of activities can be found at the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center located in Grants, the BLM Ranger Station located on NM 117, or the National Park Service Information Center located off Highway 53.

Also, rangers can provide natural and cultural history talks for organized groups. Please contact BLM in advance to make arrangements. Education groups are welcome and activities can be conducted with school groups if arrangements are made in advance.


The Narrows Picnic Area has five picnic table sites (one of which is accessible via hard pack dirt by wheelchairs) and two vault toilets. At Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, a picnic table and a vault toilet are available. Each visitor center also has one picnic table, water, and restrooms. La Ventana Natural Arch also has a picnic table and two vault toilets.


El Malpais, NCA offers free, primitive camping at the Joe Skeen Campground (11 miles south on 117, from exit 89 on I-40 and 2 miles south of the BLM Ranger Station). The Joe Skeen campground offers 10 campsites with picnic tables and a vault toilet. The National Park Service also allows primitive camping, but a free permit is required. This can be obtained at El Malpais Information Center on NM 53. There are private developed campgrounds in Grants and near El Morro. The US Forest Service, Mt Taylor Ranger District, operates several campground in the Grants, NM area.


Mountain bikes are permitted on any of the backcountry roads, however, like motorized vehicles, mechanical bikes or equipment are prohibited from wilderness areas.


Designated trails and routes will help you explore the varied landscapes of El Malpais. Ask at either visitor center for information on these trails: La Ventana Natural Arch Trail, Narrows Rim Trail, Acoma-Zuni Trail, Lava Falls Trail, Cerro Americano Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, Hole-in-the-Wall Trail, Bat Cave Trail, Big Tubes Trail, Braided Cave Trail, or the Ranger Station Nature Trail. Many other opportunities exist to hike to areas or locations that have no trails or along roads that are no longer used ask at El Malpais Ranger Station for suggestions.

Horseback riding

There are numerous places for travel by horse or other stock animal. Contact staff at the visitor center for more information.

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Details and Specs

Hours of Operation: Not Listed
Notes: None Listed
Season/Hours:Open year-round. Visitors should be cautious during the monsoon season because unpredictable weather may occur and cause flooding. The national conservation area and monument are always open to visitors except for Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, managed by the National Park Service, which closes at dusk. Other portions of the area may be closed at the request of local tribes for traditional cultural events. Parts of the area and uses may be restricted based on fire dangers or other management needs.


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