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El Malpais National Monument – Sandstone Bluffs

El Malpais National Monument

Description:

Sandstone Bluffs overlooks millions of years of geologic history, from the 200-million year-old sandstone
formed by ancient seas, to the 3000 year-old lava that borders the bluffs. From here, however, you see more than just rocks; you see a land that is part of the cultural history of the many people who have lived, and who continue to live alongside this land of volcanoes and sandstone.

After rainfalls, the potholes, or tinajas, fill with water and create temporary miniature ecosystems. Fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, spadefoot toad tadpoles and water insects find homes in these tiny oases. Look for these small animals after summer rains fill the shallow depressions. The tinajas atop of the bluffs undoubtedly supplied people with water as well.

Cost:
There are no fees charged at El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area for regular visitation.All overnight and backcountry use requires a free permit. Some caves require a Special Use Permit. Educational groups need to make reservations for ranger-led activities.

Best Time to Visit:

Sandstone Bluffs is open from sunrise to sunset, and can be visited during anytime of the year.

Where it is:

El Malpais is located near Grants New Mexico and 72 miles from Albuquerque New Mexico.

Directions:

Interstate 40 is the main east-west highway into the region. Exit 89, east of Grants, will take you along NM 117 which forms the eastern boundary. BLM’s El Malpais Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of this exit and is open daily from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm.

Map:

Click here to view National Park Service  map

Links:

National Park Service Web SiteSandstone Bluffs Brochure

Contact Information:

El Malpais National Monument
123 East Roosevelt Avenue
Grants, NM 87020
505 783-4774

Weather:

El Malpais is located at elevations that range from 6,500 to over 8,000 feet above sea level in a semi-desert. Precipitation averages 10 inches annually with most of it coming from rainfall during the monsoon season (July-September). Thunderstorms are a common occurrence during the summer months and lightning poses a hazard to hikers. Summer temperatures range from 80-100 degrees during the day with nighttime temperatures between 40-60 degrees. Winter temperatures range from 30-50 degrees in the day and can dip below zero at night.

History:

The area has had volcanic activity dating from 115,000 years ago to as recent as 3000 years ago.  Puebloan Indians have lived in the area for 10,000 years and continue their ancestral uses, including gathering herbs and medicines and other ceremonial activities.El Malpais National Monument is new to the National Park System, having been established in 1987, it contains 114,277 acres.  El Malpais translates to “the badlands” in Spanish and is pronounced Mal-(rhymes with wall)-pie-ees.

Tips for the Photographer

Equipment:You will want to bring everything that you have and then borrow some of your friends equipment. You will then need to bring a packmule to carry all of the things you will want for this photo location.

What to Photograph:

From the Sandstone Bluffs you can see the lava flow in the valley below, which runs for nearly 40 miles.  The bluffs themselves are a great subject with ever changing forms.  The tinajas, or potholes fill with water after a rain and make great subjects.Vegetation varies from low shrubs with a piñon and juniper to ponderosa pine woodlands. Wildflower displays occur mainly in the fall after the summer monsoons, with a modest spring cactus & wildflower display. Wildlife includes a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In warmer weather, rattlesnakes are sometimes sighted in the canyons or heard under rocks, so please be alert.

Photography Tips:

There are many opportunities for photos on the bluffs, from wide angle panoramic  to close up macro shots of life in the tinajas.  When shooting into water be sure to use a polarizing filter to remove the reflections from the surface so you can see into the water.To capture the true perspective of the valley try doing a panorama.  To properly shoot for a panorama be sure to set your camera to manual mode so the exposures do not change from one shot to the next.  Then take a series of shots overlapping by about 25%.  Combine the photos using Photoshop or other panorama stitching software.  With current software, use of a tripod is not necessary but will always help steady your camera and compose the shot.There are no trails and you are free to explore, but be careful there are no rails with steep drop-off and cliffs.

After rainfalls, the potholes, or tinajas, fill with water
and create temporary miniature ecosystems. Fairy
shrimp, tadpole shrimp, spadefoot toad tadpoles and
water insects find homes in these tiny oases. Look
for these small animals after summer rains fill the
shallow depressions. The tinajas atop of the bluffs
undoubtedly supplied people with water as well.

More Photographic Destinations in New Mexico:

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1 Comment
  1. Greg – Thanks for sharing this beautiful slideshow! I’ve never heard of this area before and you have introduced me to yet another destination to visit when next I get a chance to visit New Mexico. Awesome viewing!!
    Sherri

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