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This sandstone arch is very accessible (just a short walk along a gently climbing trail) and is a very impressive sight, although having seen the arches in Arches National Park some years ago we were a little disappointed that it wasn’t possible to get to a position where this arch can be seen silhouetted against the sky. Well, maybe it is possible, but it would involve a lot of scrambling across a rocky hillside dotted with warning signs about not going off the trail!
La Ventana is the second largest natural arch in New Mexico, at 135 feet, and was eroded from sandstone deposited during the age of the dinosaurs. The first part of the trail to see it is paved and could be easily followed by someone in a wheelchair. After a while however, the paving turns to a rougher stony track, but not before you have had a sight of the arch. From here it ascends slightly but it’s a very easy walk which most people will manage in about 10 minutes or so.
Updated Nov 7, 2011
El Malpais National Monument is divided into two sections, of which we only visited one – the one alongside Highway 117 more or less due south of Grants (the other lies to the west and is accessed via Highway 53). Entering the park from the south we weren’t able to stop off first at the Visitor Centre, so relied on the information in our Moon Handbook to New Mexico and my pre-holiday research.
Our first stop was at the Lava Falls trail-head, where a trail leads across the McCartys flow, the result of a series of eruptions of nearby McCartys Volcano around 3,000 years ago. Here you can pick up a leaflet about the trail. We decided against doing the full length of it as we had only limited time in the park. Although this trail is only a mile in length you do need to take your time here as the route is marked out by cairns and you have to navigate carefully, only leaving one cairn when you are sure you can see the next ahead of you.
But we did walk the first few hundred yards in order to really appreciate this unreal landscape. As soon as you get beyond sight of the small parking lot you are surrounded by lava and it can seem quite disorientating. The lava here is relatively “young” in geological terms, having been deposited just 3,000 years ago. Even in a short stretch of the trail you can see various formations which are described in the leaflet - Ropy Pahoehoe (smooth basalt with lines like rope), Lava Toes (small lobes of lava formed when hot lava breaks out of semi-hardened lava), A’a (rough broken basalt), pressure ridges and more. As the leaflet explains:
“Cracks, ripples and bubbles tell a more intricate story. When lava spilled out of McCartys crater, it did not just settle over the ground in a smooth, even layer. It was a dynamic force that took on distinctive features as it flowed over the land. Pressure ridges collided and cracked; collapses sunk into empty cavities; squeeze-ups pushed their way to the surface through weak spots.”
What fascinated me more than the different formations however, was the way in which plants had made a home in what seemed to be a totally inhospitable environment. There was no sign of soil, yet grasses and flowers peeked from every crevice, and lichens crept across bare rocks. These also served to make my photos more interesting (I hope!) as black lava alone can look very dull.
Updated Nov 7, 2011
This was probably my favourite of the three stops we made in El Malpais. An easy drive on a gravel road (fine in a 2WD) leads you to a ridge of sandstone high above the lava flows. From here you have a magnificent view of the El Malpais lava flows below and the sweeping expanse of the landscape beyond. Standing here your feet are on 200-million year-old sandstone formed by ancient seas, while below you are the beds of much younger (3,000 year-old) lava that swept through and around the bluffs when McCartys Volcano erupted, and beyond lie the distant range around Mount Taylor.
There are no marked trails here, you simply park in the large parking lot and explore wherever you want to. We simply walked along the edge of the bluff to get a variety of views, but you can, if you don’t mind heights, walk further out on to the jutting peninsula of sandstone (see photo two). You need to be aware that there are no rails or walls here separating you from a very steep drop here, wherever you choose to walk. Don’t let children or dogs run around – in fact I wouldn’t recommend coming here with small children unless they are firmly contained in a buggy or carried securely.
Unfortunately the sun chose the moment of our arrival here to dip behind the late afternoon clouds, and showed no sign of revealing itself again. This made the landscape a little flatter than I would have liked in the photos, especially my panorama shot (photo three) which really doesn’t do justice to the amazing vista. Have a look at it though just the same please, as you can get a really good sense of the scale from the tiny figures on the outcrop on the right. In the distance in this photo you can see a range of mountains, with Mount Taylor towards the left-hand end of the range and Gallo Peak towards the right. Taylor was named for the 12th American President, Zachary Taylor. It is the highest point around here at 11,301 feet and is known as Kaweshtima to the Acoma people, who believe it to be the home of the Rainmaker of the North. Gallo is also known as Ram Peak by the Acoma and is 8,664 feet high.
Written Nov 7, 2011
The Bandera Ice Caves are an interesting volcanic geological feature - hollows that remain full of blue-green ice year-round, no matter the weather. Normally this would be a heck of a sight to see, except that my fellow road-trippers and I went there on the snowiest day of the year, so were like...oh...ice. That's, uh, really unusual.
The hike was pleasant, though.
The altitude is high and the air is thin, and a lot of the trail is uphill, so if you're not used to exerting yourself in those conditions, be sure to allow yourself extra time to catch your breath!
Written Sep 22, 2006
As we were staying in the Best Western, and with only fast food chains in sight, we decided to give its own restaurant a try that evening. I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food here.
The décor isn’t bad for a hotel restaurant either, if not particularly imaginative: faded textiles, large booths around the edge, and lots of old Western paraphernalia attached to the walls. There were saddles, stirrups, rifles, but also assorted household items such as jugs and enamel bowls – the sort of stuff we’d been seeing piled high in so-called “antique” shops (aka junk no one else had a home for) but which worked well in this setting.
The service was friendly and the sole waiter coped well with a reasonably busy room. We were pleased to be shown to one of the booths even though there were just two of us, and he immediately offered to bring beers from the bar across the lobby if we wanted a larger selection than the few on the menu, which we did!
Favorite Dish: Chris decided to keep things simple and went for the traditional cheeseburger (he could also have had one served New Mexican style with green chilli). I chose the Pollo Santa Fe, a chicken breast covered with melted cheese and green chilli sauce, served with rice and beans, and in a fit of guilt at how unhealthily I had been eating, added a house salad. This latter came with a good blue cheese dressing (yes, I know I said healthy, but ...) and was a generous enough size for us to share. My chicken dish was delicious and I really enjoyed it. We paid $34 for the two mains, the salad, and a beer each, including tax and service.
We then decided on a night-cap in the sports-themed Rookies Bar which was very large and very empty – just us and the barmaid! It seemed that most of the people who’d been eating in the restaurant were staying in other nearby motels and had come over to eat here as it was probably the best choice in this rather uninspiring strip.
Written Nov 7, 2011
Address: 1501 E Sante Fe Avenue, Grants, NM
Driving on the interstate highway can be hazardous do to the high speeds the other motorist are doing even though it is monitored heavily by the New Mexico State Police it doesn't seem to slow them down. The side roads you have to watch for drivers not using turn signals and sudden stops but just remember this is not the city .
Written Aug 24, 2002
El Calderon is an area just off of HIghway 53 as you enter El Malpais with several hiking trails to various caves. Currently all caves are closed for recreational use due to the risk of a fungus that is killing off bats. Junction cave is right next to the parking lot, this kids enjoyed taking a peek..
Written Mar 16, 2013
Acoma certainly merits a page of its own but as many people use Grants as a base for a visit to “Sky City”, I am also including a brief description here. In my opinion this is a must-see if you are anywhere in this part of New Mexico – and worth a detour even if you are not!
Acoma Pueblo is built on top of a sheer-walled, 367-foot sandstone mesa in a valley dotted with sacred, towering monoliths, and is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. While most Acoma people no longer live there, preferring a home with a few more “mod cons” elsewhere on the reservation land (houses in the pueblo have no electricity, no running water and no toilet), it is still home to about 30 people year-round, and to many more during festivals when everyone returns to their ancestral home on the mesa. To visit you have to take a tour, and these start from the very attractive and informative Cultural Centre, worth a visit in its own right for the excellent museum and art gallery. Tours cost $20 per adult (late 2011 price) and this fee includes permission to use one camera. Your camera will be tagged to show that you have paid, so don’t think you can use multiple devices for the one fee – and note that no video photography is allowed.
Having paid your fee you join a small group (we were seven in number) in a minibus for the short ride to the top of the mesa with your guide. You are then escorted around the pueblo; the tour lasts about an hour and a half, and is accompanied throughout, so no wandering off on your own. All guides come from the pueblo and really know their stuff – ours was excellent. The tour winds through the village streets and you will see the traditional houses, ovens, water cisterns and more. You finish in the simple but beautiful church of San Esteban (no photos allowed inside), having had a fascinating glimpse of Acoma culture and learnt much about the life-style, beliefs and customs of these people.
It has to be said too that you will have had numerous opportunities to purchase the traditional pottery of the Acoma. There are tables set up at strategic points on the tour with a local potter displaying their creations. These are for the most part very striking, usually in shades of black and red only, though some other colours are included in non-traditional designs in order to appeal to tourists. They didn’t appeal to us however, as we much preferred the simplicity of the traditional colour scheme which contrast well with the intricacy of some of the designs. Prices aren’t cheap, as everything is hand-made (if you think you’ve found a bargain, it won’t have been made by hand), but they are better value than in tourist shops elsewhere, so if you like the work this is a great place to buy. We purchased a very small plate (about 2.5 inches across) decorated with lizards for $20 – we wanted a souvenir of our visit but were concerned about carrying anything larger and heavier (and breakable) having already bought our ceramic horse in Hillsboro a few days earlier.
When the tour finishes you have the choice of returning to the Cultural Centre in the minibus or on foot. I would like to have done the latter but decided that it would be wiser to save my still-dodgy back for places where there was no alternative but to walk, so we got the bus back. Others from our group who walked arrived about 15 minutes later while we were enjoying a cold drink in the courtyard and said that the walk was steep but not difficult, though they didn’t seem to have found it especially interesting (I have read otherwise here on VT however).
Tours of the pueblo begin at 9.30am and continue throughout the day until 3.30pm – we went on the first of the day and I imagine it was less busy than later ones. Acoma closes during the winter months (this year from November 10, 2011 through to February 15, 2012).
Directions: Several exits from I40 lead to Acoma – best to take exit 96 if coming from Grants and 108 or 102 if coming from Albuquerque (we arrived via exit 96 and returned to the Interstate at 108). The Cultural Centre is signposted all the way from the Interstate. Note that the “no photos without a permit” rule applies throughout reservation land, so you shouldn’t really stop to take pictures on your way to the pueblo as you won’t yet have your permit.
Updated Nov 12, 2011
Acoma Sky City just thirty minutes east of Grants just off I-40 south at exit 102 . The San Estevan Del Rey Mission which was built in 1629 by Franciscan missionaries and the first Europeans to see the Acomas. The Pueblo of Acoma claims to be the oldest settlement dating at about 1150 A.D. in North America .
Written Aug 24, 2002
Favorite thing: If you golf the Coyote Del Malpais golf course has 18 holes and 16 lakes on this championship course . Fees $15.75 Carts $8.50 Open year round .
Fondest memory: Bluewater Lake state park is 25 miles west of Grants just off I-40 and a great place to spend a day or two . Theres camping,boating,water skiing,swimming and fishing . A great place for the entire family!
Written Aug 24, 2002