As a New Mexican, I love travelling new roads and getting in to the nooks and crannies of the lesser-known attractions of our state.Fueled by the sun, haunted by waters, I always say.Recently a colleague and I had the chance to visit the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano near Grants, and it was a treat.Fire and Ice and some fascinating history make for a good cocktail, and this place is no exception.
Owned by the Candelaria family, the property is rugged and beautiful and a microcosm of the ancient history that surrounds it. There are remnants of native American dwellings from 1200 years ago. A classic conical volcano left over from an eruption 10,000 years ago. Ice that dates back to 1100 AD. A trading post that is like walking into a time-warp back to the 1930s.
Imagine walking through an ancient lava field in the middle of summer, sun blasting down on the black rock, radiating heat and elevating already hot temperatures, ponderosa trees and old growth juniper twisted and gnarled like a prehistoric sculpture all around you, and suddenly coming upon a collapsed lava tube, set deep down in the lava flow, with a pool of frozen water at the base of a cave. Ice that is 20-feet thick. White ice. Green ice. Ice that seems so out of place it makes smoke come out of your ears trying to understand how it came to be. Despite the dry location and the warm ambient temperatures, the ice cave temperature never rises above 31 degrees, and is often even colder than that. As the moisture from above seeps through the ground, it drips into the cave, slowly building up the ice and icicles and keeping the temperature cool. The ice was “harvested” in 30s and 40s to chill the beer that was served in the Saloon of the Ice Cave Trading Post. It is a sight to behold, and an anachronism in the landscape.
An easy half mile hike from the ice cave will take you into the land of fire - the Bandera Volcano last blew fire 10,000 years ago, creating the otherworldly, lunar landscape. The perfectly shaped volcano is 800 feet deep, 1400 feet across. A giant hole in the ground. Fire and Ice connected via a lava tube.
If you are looking for historical and cultural artifacts, memorabilia from 30s, geology treasures, and general quirkiness, the Ice Cave Trading Post, which has served as the visitor center for the Ice Cave and the Bandera Volcano since the 1930s, is the place to be. It is packed full of history, and even includes examples of ski equipment from the 40s, when David Candelaria (owner) ran a single rope-tow ski area off the flanks of the volcano back when snow was in more abundance. Mr. Candelaria was a pioneer in the nascent tourism industry in NM, and in recognition of his contribution to the tourism industry, he was elected in the New Mexico Tourism Hall of Fame in 1997. Seems befitting, especially once you visit the Ice Cave and Volcano and try to imagine setting up the tourism infrastructure necessary back in the 40s to receive visitors.
I have learned over the years that it almost always pays off to take the time and explore, and once again I was rewarded by exploring a nook and cranny off the beaten path. The Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano is a unique experience that is well worth the 25 minute drive from Grants.
Additional things to do:
For those travelers daring enough to venture off I-40 and out to the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano, there is plenty to do in the surrounding area as well. Nearby are the El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monuments, as well as Zuni Pueblo, and for those looking for quality single-track mountain biking, there are miles of it nearby. If you need a meal, try the Ancient Way Café in Morro, NM.
The facility is open from March-October, 9am-5pm (open to 6pm in the summer months). For more information, visit www.icecaves.com