Hermosa Cave, April 2016 · Index

Trip Report: El Malpais National Monument

NMT Caving Club, November 5th, 2016

This trip report covers a NMT Caving Club to The El Malpais National Monument. We met on campus early in the morning, went caving, coated the jeep in mud, and returned shortly before midnight.

Trip leader: David Hunter

Attending: Josh and Eshani

El Malpais National Monument is located south of Grants, NM. It is the site of a series of ancient volcanic eruptions that covered the surrounding area with lava. This resulted in a rugged area which is both picturesque and very difficult to hike across. And, fortunately for cavers, it resulted in a number of lava tubes. This is far from the first NMT Caving Club trip to El Malpais, and a trip report from one of the prior trips can be found here.

Permits for several of the lava tubes can be obtained at the visitor centers. We made our usual stop there for a permit.

Some of the local dirt roads will turn into giant slimy mud holes when it rains; an unwary driver can be easily trapped by the roads turning to soup after a storm. And the clouds here are moving out after having dumped a large quantity of rain the day before...

View of the landscape by the visitor center.

What with the rain and all we were in a jeep instead of the VW Golf we used last time. Sadly I forgot to take more pictures of the El Malpais Mud Pits as we drove through. Suffice to say that the jeep made through or around a large number of slimy mud holes.

Here at the trailhead Josh and Eshani prepare for the trip. It is Eshani's first caving trip. She came from Sri Lanka to attend graduate school at New Mexico Tech where we convinced her that anybody with her inherent size advantage has to take up caving. Every caving grotto wants somebody that small to help check out the tight stuff. At least, until they start mocking you as you struggle to crawl through the same spot they just ran through.

At the parking area getting ready to hike to the caves.

Once we reached the entry to Big Skylight Josh promptly found his phone to be far more interesting than the giant cliff he is standing on top of.

Above the entry to Big Skylight.

Everybody easily handles the short climb down into the cave.

Headed into Big Skylight Cave.

When looking at the photos it is hard to appreciate how large the first portion of the cave is.

Inside Big Skylight cave.

After exploring Big Skylight we crossed the arch over the canyon of big black rocks and headed to Four Windows Cave.

The arch by Big Skylight Cave.

Crossing the arch there is a view of where the original tube collapsed. It must have been an impressive cave back then (and an impressive collapse when it went). Not as impressive at the Missoula Floods but still impressive.

A view of an old collapsed lava tube.

It was a short hike over to Four Windows cave.

The entry to Four Windows.

Eshani seems ready to head in.

Eshani near Four Windows.

Like Big Skylight, the first section of Four Windows is huge and the further back in you go the smaller it gets.

The main passage in Four Windows Cave.

Instead of one large skylight Four Windows Cave has four smaller ones; here are three of them.

Looking up at the windows.

The message here is clear.

A keep off the moss sign.

Unlike Washington State where moss rules the land, moss is rare in New Mexico and this seems to be a large portion of New Mexico's supply. Given how slowly cave flora grows it would take it a long time to recover if trampled; they really are justified in requiring visitors to keep off.

Moss in Four Windows Cave.

Eshani really enjoyed the trip and decided to move in to one of the nearby holes. Given the cost of school these days living in a cave might be the only way to make ends meet.

Eshani in a very small lava bubble.

As the sun sets we head back to the car. We foolishly attempted to return to Socorro by heading south to Pie Town. So our drive started out with an hour and a half of cruising through mud holes. A couple of the longer ones tried to gobble up the jeep but we made it through without having to dig out. And after all that we arrived in Pie Town far too late to buy a pie. So, remember: if you visit the El Malpais Mud Pits, it is faster to go back via Grants than via Pie Town.

Sunset at El Malpais.

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Last Updated: December 2016; Original Posting.

© David C. Hunter, 2016
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