Today was a day to visit several widely spaced attractions. My plan three weeks ago was to come through this area and visit Acoma Pueblo, El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument. At the time I thought that I would camp at either of the two National Monuments which both have campgrounds. With the snow that has graced the highland areas that plan would have been a bust and as it turns out that I really lucked out with staying here at the Acoma/Sky City Casino. Not only are the accommodations pretty nice but it is a central location that makes seeing the other things pretty easy.This morning at about 8am, I started for the El Malpais Conservation Area....It gets a little confusing here. There is an El Malpais National Monument and an El Malpais Conservation Area. The Conservation Area is administered by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the National Monument area is administered by the National Parks. The areas are adjacent but in some places you can't easily get from one area to the other.
Anyway, I started with the closest, the BLM managed area which is on the eastern edge of the whole complex. This area is much less known and travelled of the two but to me that's a plus. The area includes a huge lava flow, New Mexico's second largest natural arch and a very little known pueblo excavation. I spent about three hours in this area and I don't think I saw more than 10 cars in the whole time.The lava flow comes from numerous extinct volcanoes that spewed their stuff over 100,000 years ago. I'm guessing that there are several hundred square miles of this stuff and it's all fascinating. It is clearly a lava flow. The curled and misshapen rock is still black with the consistency of cake frosting pushed through a pastry bag. Vegetation still struggles to gain a foothold even after 100,000 years!
La Ventana Arch is classified as New Mexico's second largest natural arch. It was beautiful but it was also a bit of a disappointment to me...not because it wasn't beautiful but because it was deep in a shady canyon that only saw a brief bit of winter sunlight and the snow was so deep that it was not possible to climb up to it. I was really hoping to climb up into the arch and take some pictures from the cave behind the arch. If I've learned anything this trip however, is't to make the best of what you've got so I enjoyed the view from a shadowy distance.This eastern side of El Malpais also has a minor pueblo excavation known as the Dittert Site. It's not well know or publicized. If you want to visit, you have to go to the BLM visitors center and ask for directions...which I did. The volunteer manning the center was a local Native American who had a lot of archeological experience in the area and we had a great conversation. He gave me directions and said that I should have no problem reaching the site in my truck. It was really isolated (way out in the sticks) down a primitive road (translate=mostly 4 wheel dive road).
When I got to the last turn off before the "primitive road" I started thinking that if I had a problem with the truck I could be in big trouble. The closest human was at an isolated ranch about 3 miles away. I got within about a mile of the side when the road got pretty muddy and boggy. It didn't take me to long to remember a guiding principal of backcountry travel..."Discretion is the better part of valor". That principal has kept me out of deep do-do on quite a number of occasions so I yielded to it and turned around short of my goal. My consolation was the utter isolation of the surrounding area. I'd bet that there were not 100 humans living in a one hundred mile radius of where I turned around. I enjoyed that as I drove back out, twenty five miles to I-40.That completed the eastern part of my day's adventure. Next was El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument which was about 60 miles from the morning's start. El Malpais National Monument features not only a great area of lava flow but a unique chance to walk into a lava tube. A lava tube is a tunnel in a lava flow. Check here for the scientific description of how they form.
Unfortunately, the sixty mile drive to the west side of El Malpais also brought me up another 1000 feet in elevation. High enough that I was back into the snow zone. Two feet of snow on the ground meant that I would have to miss the lava tube experience so I headed farther west to El Morro.The snow there was just as deep and I was disappointed that the trail to the ancient pueblo was closed. The trail around Inscription Rock was open however and it proved to be the highlight of the day. It's not too often that you can see personal evidence of living human beings that stretched over a several thousand year time period, side by side but that's what you get at Inscription Rock. Ancient people left pictographs on this massive rock. The Spaniards left their marks too, starting in 1605, and then the American pioneers followed leaving their marks as well.
While I love the ancient evidence of people I must admit that I am equally fascinated by more historical items. I can relate more personally to the carvings on a rock that someone from Baltimore, Md. passed this place 150 years ago or a railroad man looking for a route for to California. Fascinating stuff!
Check out the picture to the left with the black arrow pointing to the date of 1636 and directly below that date are pictographs of bighorn sheep recorded at least 1000 years ago!