Sandstone bluffs overlook El Malpais

Travelogue: El Malpais Conservation Area, Grants, NM

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!

Joe Skeen Campground El Malpais

Our bus parked at the Joe Skeen Campground

Joe Skeen Campground El Malpais Conservation Area

The view from behind our site at Joe Skeen Campground

Pygmy Pines El Malpais Conservation Area

Piney woods in the campground

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.

Tree at sandstone bluffs overlook el malpais

Exploring the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook

Sandstone Bluffs Overlook El Malpais National Monument

The Sandstone Bluffs, overlooking lava field

Photography at El Malpais National Monument

Justine, not behind the camera for a change!

El Malpais Sandstone Bluffs Overlook New Mexico

Sandstone Bluffs with Mt. Taylor way in the background.

Hiking Sandstone Bluffs Overlook El Malpais National Monument

Hiking the Sandstone Bluffs

Sandstone bluffs overlook El Malpais

Ryan taking in the lava field below the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook.

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!

La Ventana Arch El Malpais National Monument Grants, NM

La Ventana Arch – bummer it was so cloudy!


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