Though we visited southern New Mexico back in January, we hadn’t yet taken the bus across the northern half of the state. This time around, we made it a point to see some of the sites along I-40, and El Malpais Conservation Area & National Monument were definitely near the top of our list!
Dubbed “the badlands” by the Spanish, this landscape is seriously weird and cool. First and foremost, you’ll notice the lava fields that span thousands of acres and originate from ancient volcanic activity in the area. You’ll also find underground caves, lava tubes, and calderas as well. Oh, and truly spectacular sandstone rock formations to boot.
We stayed at the Joe Skeen Campground, a free BLM campground located 12 miles south of I-40 along route 117. This place had everything we typically look for in a camping spot – views galore, roomy & private sitess, and proximity to great hiking. And it’s free!
You can pick up the Continental Divide trail not far from the campground and there’s also a trailhead nearby for the Acoma-Zuni Trail which takes you across the lava-fields. We opted instead to bike from the campground up to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook so I could snap some photos and we could climb around on the rocks making up the bluffs. It’s been a while since we’ve done any serious activity at high altitude (it’s about 6,800 ft. elevation) so we were definitely huffing and puffing more than usual while out and about. The bluffs themselves are truly beautiful and offer great views of the lava field.
On our last day in the area we stopped by La Ventana Arch before heading out. We would have loved to explore the caves and lava tubes too, but the road to that area was closed during our visit. Next time we make it back here, we’ll be sure to go caving!