El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments

I think most of us are this way: we look at the unusual and beautiful things in our home states as places just to take family visiting from out of town.

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I think most of us are like this:  We forget about the really amazing sights in our own state…simply because they are in the place where we live our day to day lives.  The interesting and beautiful become places you take visiting family from out of town.  I’m trying to be better about visiting the places I overlook simply because they’ve always been there.

Recently, with best friend in tow, I set out to visit two (that’s right TWO) national monuments here in New Mexico.  About 90 miles from Albuquerque lies the National Monument of El Malpais.  I’ve hiked here before and was happy to return.  It’s a bit dry this spring, but despite the lack of green there are some gorgeous vistas to view in El Malpais.  This is another one of those places where all levels of hikers can find a trail to their liking.  There are lava caves (get your caving permit at the Visitor Center), lava trenches, and trails that scale the sides of a volcanic caldera. If you geek out on lava, this is an unusual place where you can see two separate kinds of lava flows in one area.


El Malpais

We took the 3.8 mile trek to the top of the caldera and that trail comes complete with some butt-busting incline toward the top of the trail.  The parks service has inserted some wooden “stairs” that lead you to the top of the caldera.  (You will definitely feel the need to stretch when you’re done!)

From El Malpais, make the easy 20 mile drive over to El Morro.  Now, I’m not gonna lie, I always thought El Morro was just a big rock.  That maybe explains why I hadn’t been there until now.  There are really big rocks, yes, but the really big rocks contain some really interesting New Mexico history.

El Morrow

See, El Morro for years was the only place for miles around to get clean drinking water, so people stopped along this sandstone bluff to get water, to camp….and to carve their names into the rock.  It seems that humans have never been able to resist carving their initials into inanimate objects.

The water at El Morro

We took the Inscription Trail that runs right along the bluff.  Here you get a good look at the  more than 2,000 signatures and Petroglyphs.  The carvings encompass a rich history of ancestral Puebloans, Spanish, and American travelers.  The Army, wagon trains, the railroad, and even the first Colonial Governor of New Mexico chiseled their names here.  Some of these fellas were incredibly handy with a chisel.  Check out the photo of Mr. Long’s signature.  How in the hell did he do THAT with a chisel?!


National Parks and National Monuments are in every state. Look around you to see what you’ve been overlooking.  And, while you’re at it, get you a National Parks Pass.  At $85/year, mine has paid for itself several times over.  If you’re a Senior, you can get your pass for $10 for a lifetime.  That’s a bargain!

Now, if hiking gets you hungry, do yourself a favor and stop at the 66 Pit Stop just outside of Albuquerque for a Laguna Burger.  This gas station (yep, it’s a gas station) serves up green chile cheeseburgers and other yummies.  The burgers are award winning and they are delicious.  For all of you out of towners not used to our New Mexican chile (and it’s chile not chili), you might order yours on the side…it’s got a kick!

Laguna Burger



Author: missheatherlynnp

Heather Pillman is a frequent traveler and a sometimes freelance writer, who wanted a forum to write about her travels and humorous misadventures. After encouragement from friends, she took the leap and started a blog about her travels. An avid hiker, nature lover and photographer, Heather is always looking for her next travel adventure. She believes fantastic travel is happening everywhere and loves to explore the sites in her own backyard and abroad.

2 thoughts on “El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments”

  1. Thanks for this. In my many trips to New Mexico, I’ve never made it to the Malpais or El Morro. FYI to your readers, the Senior Pass price is going to go up significantly in cost, so it’s time to get one now, if possible (and for however long the current administration allows the NPS to exist at all!). As it happens, I got mine at the U.S. Forest Service office in downtown Albuquerque, just before heading out to Chaco Canyon last summer. Looking forward to more of New Mexico from a local. Thanks for visiting Under Western Skies.


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