Friday, March 18, 2016

Never Heard of It - Let's Check It Out!

Heading west from Albuquerque on Wednesday, our destination is Gallup, NM. We're getting a lot of air noise from the new windshield, but the wind is hitting us at a weird angle so we just turn up the music.

The mesas in the distance are beautiful, and about 25 miles before Grants (we're on I-40) we're in red rock canyons on all sides. Bill checks to see if there are access roads and finds El Malpais National Monument. We've never heard of it, but it looks amazing.

Let's stop here for a couple nights!

Lavaland RV Park is small, right across the road from the national monument visitors' center, $50 for two nights with FHUs, 50 amp, small pine trees, and is clean and level. 

Our delight at the flexibility of this life, and anticipation of seeing more natural beauty, is temporarily sidelined when Bill points out that 10 inches of the new windshield rubber has pulled away from the glass on one side. No wonder it was making noise. We are sooooo done with every repair taking multiple times to be completed correctly!

We'll do what we need to do. In the meantime we check out the small town of Grants, pretty much a one-street burg. There is a new Walmart, several restaurants, a Ford dealer, a local grocery, and a wide variety of small services. We have a quick and decent lunch at the 1st Street Cafe (not on 1st Street), and pick up a caulking gun at the True Value.

A stop at the nice VC rekindles our excitement to see the area. A few maps and brochures in hand, we head back home for the evening.

Thursday morning is bright, sunny and completely calm. Perfect.

I email photos of the screwed up windshield to our insurance company, and Bill reseals the windshield rubber before we head out.  

There are two state highways into the El Malpais NM (the badlands). Hwy 117 on the east side, and Hwy 53 on the west. A county road crossing the south side makes it a loop, but it is a 40 mile, dirt, high-clearance-4-wheel-drive road which sounds like a bit much for our late start. 

We start out on Hwy 117. A few miles south and the "wow!s" begin. This is volcano territory and the resulting sculptures and paintings are breathtaking. How have we never heard of this place??

Our first stop - Sandstone Bluffs
McCartys Flow covers hundreds of acres - lava as far as you can see
You can climb the bluffs to the top. I can't. But you could.
In the wind her haircut looks fine. Guess we should stay in New Mexico a couple more weeks :-)
A very narrow slot canyon. could.
The Sandstone Bluffs offer several hiking and climbing options, pit toilets, adequate parking, and a couple picnic tables. The dirt road is one mile off the highway.

Back on Hwy 117 there are limited places to pull out, but with very few other vehicles I make brief stops in the road to capture the inspiring vistas. Don't tell.

Feeling small among giants
Some of the oldest Douglas Firs on the planet live in this national monument
Massive boulders
"The West"
Caves in the sandstone
Our next stop is the Zuni-Acoma Trailhead. We can now say we have hiked, traversed, walked, stepped on the Continental Divide Scenic Trail. It runs from Canada to Mexico, we'll have to catch the rest of it next time. 

At the trailhead
Playing on the trail. So glad we got the dog washed.
And the car....
If we had to pick a "most amazing" feature of the day, it would have to be La Ventana Arch. A short trail with some elevation gain, we shared it with just two other hikers on their way out.

Challenging lighting, but stunning colors in person
120 foot span, La Ventana is New Mexico's second largest arch
9 foot tall at its most narrow point
Love all the color in this lava-blob
We may need to reroute the trail just a smidge....
On the way to the Lava Falls Area Trail we pass through North Pasture. At the south end of the monument. Okay!

North Pasture: After all the canyons it is eye-stretching!
The Lava Falls Trail takes us into McCartys Flow. Apparently Bill thinks the name of the trail is instructive.

I don't see it, but I hear him fall. An uneven, rugged, and very sharp-rock path, it only takes one misstep. Ouch! Lava is unforgiving and he is lucky to walk out with a bruised rib and a scraped arm. 

While he catches his breath at the Jeep, Tessa and I make our way - really, really carefully - to the first small crater. This is a harsh and beautiful place. All of the photos are one the trail.

Deep and wide fissures
Crater, deeper than it appears
Iron deposit
We're not going to do the 40-mile dirt road so we drive back through all the beauty to grab a late lunch in Grants.

Always new stuff to see on "the way back"
Neopolitan ice cream - yummy!
After lunch we take Hwy 53 to see the west side of El Malpais and El Morro National Monument.

This route is more forest than canyon. Beautiful, I love the drive. 

Since I shared Bill's whoops, it's only fair that I share mine :-(  My first speeding ticket in 15 years! The curse of wide open spaces, and the road all to ourselves. At least the fine is half what it would be in California!

El Morro is more about one feature - Inscription Rock - than it is a large area. The trail is already closed when we get to the VC, but I take a quick walk through the pretty museum and catch some shots of the famous rock.

Because of a water hole hidden at the base of this sandstone bluff, El Morro (the headland) was a popular stopping spot for hundreds of years. Ancestral Puebloans and Spanish and American travelers carved over 2000 signatures, dates, messages and petroglyphs.
The monument behind the nice visitor center.
Travelers couldn't resist leaving their mark
For current travelers who still can't resist - front of the visitors center
A little more pretty on our way home
What a great day - even with our individual whoops. By changing our plans en route we were able to see a spectacular place we had never heard of.  Love it!

Now I can recommend a stop in Grants, NM, to everyone. And don't spend the $47/night at the KOA which is not as nice as Lavaland!

Friday morning it's back on the road to Gallup. Where we may, or may not, stop for a few days.


  1. Love the wind blown Tessa! Ouch on both whoops!

  2. There are so many places to visit and we've probably not even heard of all them yet.

  3. What a great find! The LaVentana Arch is beautiful! Sorry about the "whoops"...happens to all of us at some time or another....

    Tessa is a doll!

    1. The colors in that arch were like nothing I've ever seen. She's a ham for sure

  4. I am so with you on repairs that aren't really repaired. Especially hard on full timers who can't go back over and over and over to complain. Hope you can take care of it. Wow what a find there. Just love the freedom you have in the west to stop and check it out, not so easy in the east. That arch is gorgeous. Sorry about the pain in Bill's ribs and your wallet.

    1. True - fortunately this one is insurance so they have to set up the places, etc. Still, we've only had a few issues but every one has taken at least three places to get them fixed :-( There is definitely SO much to see out here - and still places to stay if we don't have a reservation :-)))))

  5. We enjoyed mountain biking the Quaking Aspen Trail near Gallup last Sept. There is national forest camping but not sure how big of a rig it would take. Looks like that lava trail kept you on your toes, and elbow and .....

    1. Hehe - indeed it did! Beautiful but treacherous. I was surprised how much national forest there was in the area, but we didn't see any access as all the small roads had locked gates.

  6. I enjoyed the pretty photos so much!! I have never stopped there..on the list now!!
    Tessa is gorgeous!!!! Is she a Wheaten Terrier? ...Such a sweetie!!

    1. You will love it there - so much beauty. Yes, she is a Wheaten. Best dog we've ever had.

  7. My Dad used to get so mad at me when my car made strange noises and I turned up the music. Bill has been talking about going to El Mapais and El Morro and now I want to go more than ever. Maybe include those if we get to Chaco before I head back to work. Ouch for both of you.

    1. Too funny, those Dads! There's a small campground at El Morro with outstanding views, only about 10 primitive sites. Lovely VC nearby. Definitely worth the drive in my book.

  8. Isn't being flexible the best!! I am so glad we are, also, able to keep our plans in jello most of the time. It make opportunities like this so special. And those unplanned adventures always seem to be some of the best:) So glad you stopped to introduce me to these neat National Monuments. Sorry to hear about your whoops:) You two should get hiking poles. It is amazing how much better they make you feel when the trail is rocky. Also, you can hike a further having four legs instead of two.

    1. Embarrassed to say my poles are in the motorhome - but definitely am putting them in the Jeep from now on! Even with whoops, and things to be fixed, the flexibility makes this the very best life :-)

  9. What a beautiful area -- and one we've never visited. Thanks for the preview tour! That arch is especially cool. So sorry about the two dings in your experience -- Bill's fall sounds especially painful. :-(

    1. He was very lucky although the rib is still ouchy. Your trailer would fit nicely in that little El Morro campground :-)

  10. Thanks, Jodee -- it's so helpful to know that our trailer will fit in the campground. Another one for the list. :-) Our best to Bill for speedy healing.