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El Malpais National Monument
1900 E Santa Fe Avenue Grants-Milan, NM 87020

The primeval black basalt terrain of El Malpais was created by volcanic forces over the past million years. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations. This stark landscape preserves one of the best continuous geologic records of volcanism on the planet. El Malpais offers everything from easy drives, scenic overlooks, and short walks to strenuous trails, caving, and rugged backcountry. Take your pick of many great outdoor sights and spectacles that encompass the geology, history, and culture of the region. In El Malpais many trails are actually routes marked with cairns. Instead of a well-defined path clearly visible on the landscape, a series of rock piles called cairns are used to trace a route across the land. These routes are very common on lava landscapes, where creating a traditional trail or footpath is impossible because of the extreme nature of the terrain. Hiking cairned routes requires more attention to navigation. As you travel, make sure you have the next cairn in sight before leaving the one that you are at. Keep your eyes on the land while walking; the uneven nature of the terrain demands that you pay more attention since there is no even surface. If you want to enjoy the views, stop, get a secure footing, and then look around. Look back frequently to stay familiar with the landscape as it changes.