El Malpais National Monument - El Calderon and Sandstone Cliffs and More

The El Calderon Area offers a sampling of all of the features that make El Malpais so unique: lava tubes, cinder cones, and lava flows! Two lava tube caves – Junction Cave and Xenolith Cave – are located just off the El Calderon trail. Caving permits are required to enter all lava tube caves at El Malpais National Monument.

Easy hike with little gradient and for a change, little wind. Lots of holes in the ground with the most impressive being Double Sinks. Two distinct lava tube openings just yards apart. Caves were all gated at their entrances. My understanding is the reason being a combination of the White Nose fungus which has devastated the US bat population and the ever-present brainless tourist. It was a pleasant late afternoon stroll with no vehicles at the trailhead and no one on the trail.

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and adventure. Explore incredible geologic features such as lava flows, cinder cones, lava tube caves, and sandstone bluffs. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. The name El Malpais (el-mal-pie-EES) is from the Spanish term Malpaís, meaning badlands, due to the extremely barren and dramatic volcanic field that covers much of the park’s area.

Sandstone Bluffs were the first stop within the park. It was more impressive than I had imagined and working the cliff wall was one of the nicer hikes of the trip. From there it was off to Lava Fallswhich turned out to be my second favorite hike of the trip. Walking through fresh lava flows was a totally new experience for me. Couple that with how nice the morning was just took it to the next level. Short hike, less than two hours, but I’ll remember it. The Narrows Rim Hike should have been just as nice but was not. Too tired, too windy, too much distance from the trail to the cliff wall. I would do it again, but Lava Falls pushed all the buttons.

Click images to view trip report details.

Trip report image
USGS flow link image