Go to Another Vacation

New Mexico - 2005


Our campsite

Day 1 - Fly to Albuquerque, El Malpais

Our arrival into Albuquerque was before noon which allowed us time to plan some park time at El Malpais. Unfortunately, for the second time, Enterprise did not have the car we reserved, but at least this time offered one that was only slightly less desirable.

After the prerequisite stop at Walmart to get food and water, El Malpais was not a long drive and soon took us off the highway to a solitary road with occasional bordering lava beds frozen in time. A quick stop at the BLM Ranger Station was necessary to figure out where to camp. A perfect and quiet campground was right down the road. No water and vault toilets keep the crowds to a minimum of us, a photographer, and a few hunters, all who sleep in their trucks. No midnight sounds of tents unzipping and tearing you out of a sweet slumber. We were asleep by 7pm.

El Malpais lava field

sleeping wolf R. H. Orton - Capt. 1st Cal. Cav. 1866

Day 2 - El Malpais, Wolf Sanctuary, El Morro

Lava Bed Hike

As soon as the sun rose we headed off to do the hike on the lava beds before it got too hot.

Long Drive

The trip to the other side of El Malpais included driving all the way back up to 40 and then dropping down again after a few exits. While taking this roundabout way, we reflected on the Acoma-Zuni trail that links the two sides by a 7 mile path.

Wolf Sanctuary

Because the Wolf Sanctuary would be closed the following day, we drove a bit further south to visit the sanctuary first. The 'tour group' was small, consisting of us and the couple who tailgated us the entire way to the site. The dogs/wolves are kept in pens for obvious safety and you can't touch any of the animals, but it was interesting hearing the history of each and how they ended up here. "A college guy had this one in their dorm and it caused a ruckus" was a repeating theme. "Attacking neighbor's dog" was another. Wolves do not make good pets like dogs do.

El Morro

What might be the smallest park we have ever visited, this single loop, two to three hour park was a delight. The staff was wonderful and the trail beautiful. A lovely dinner at the Tinaja Trading Post and Cafe made for a perfect day. A short drive back to the El Morro camp ground was nice. The campground was a little busier than El Malpais, but the spot we picked was fine.

Stagecoach Cafe


Green dinosaur on the side of the road advertising Fossils

Day 3 - El Malpais, Drive to Holbrook

The morning began on the Acoma-Zuni trail. If you love treasure hunts and a slow pace, this is the trail for you. Following in the footsteps of Zuni and Acoma for countless generations, the path least straight through a field, misleading the visitor into believing the trail is gentle and kind. Soon the hike through the lava flows, searching for the next cairn becomes a challenge, and after a few hours we had only traveled about 2-3 miles. After finishing almost half of the water we carried, we turned back.

Next stop was Junction Cave. Armed with 2 head lamps, two flashlights, two cameras with flash, and spare batteries, we descended. Very interestingly and perfect "weather" for fleece tops, the cave offered a big change from the hot lava beds from the past three days. Sadly, at the end in the mud room, people had written their names and initials in the mud, which will probably lead to the closing of that part of the cave.

We finally made our visit to the ranger station at El Malpais, again, a wonderful staff greeted us, helped us map our trip, gave us sites to visit outside the park, provided delicious water from tap, talked about water preserving gardening (a personal hobby) and made us want to come back again and again.

On to Holbrook, we had a nice late lunch at the Stagecoach. Stuffed sopapillas and tacos made for a perfect meal, all ending with apple pie. Mmmm. The nice owner and a friendly atmosphere made for a perfect stop just as reccommended by the ranger at El Malpais.

Desert vista

Purple and blue striped landscape

Petroglyph of a cat with open mouth

Day 4 - Petrified Forest, Drive to Grants

We rose before sunset and ate breakfast in the car in order to get the most out of our day at Petrified Forest National Park. Sadly, the gate was closed until 8 am and even through that one we could only get to the Ranger's Station as the pay booth was not open yet.

On the way up from our first hike, we were 'busted' by the park ranger who mistook us for people who came in before the park opened and did not pay. Luckily on his two way radio, the woman at the other end let him know he had the wrong car and we indeed did go through the booth and show our park pass. The place is run like Fort Knox! Apparently it is because some tourists steal the artifacts (petrified wood that is millions of years old) even though they can buy the stuff at the gift shop on the south end of the park as well as all along Route 40 for as little as free. All I figure is after spending the whole day there, I was OK with not seeing ay more petrified wood for quite some time!

The park has seen a lot of destruction/vandalism/thievery so most things you want to see are off limits, must be viewed from afar, or they are not allowed to tell you where to go to see what you came to see. So we basically used the brochure and stopped at all the signs and made it through the park to the end just minutes before closing.

We topped off the day at a freaky roadside attraction that had ostriches, free petrified wood, and mannequins being eaten by dinosaurs. Seriously.

After the sun set we headed towards Grants thinking that is the town closest to us and Chaco Culture so we would have a short drive the following morning. Stayed at a motel that was $5 cheaper than the others ones. Now we know why. It had a detached toilet seat, and a burnt out light bulb. We also think the son of the guy in Deliverance was staying there as well. We locked the door.

Dinner was at a restaurant that 'specialized' in Greek, Italian, American, and Mexican. Mexican as in Ortega pre-made taco shells. We were the youngest people in the restaurant by about 150 years. After navigating the oxygen tanks (when I reach the point where I need one I am going to paint flames on the side) we made our way to the table. It took a while to read the entire menu but with pie on the desert tray it did not really matter what dinner was.

Lizzard Animal petroglyph

Day 5 - Chaco Culture

We started our drive with a side stop to Casamero, a small ruin on BLM land, before we headed to Chaco Culture NHP.

So we thought we were going to see the Sun Dagger. That was the plan. Oh to find out it had been off limits for decades now. Apparently heavy traffic to see it caused the boulder to shift and it does not work anymore. Not even rangers can go to it. A set of binoculars points to it but they are not good enough to see the petroglyph, only the boulder. Drat!

The rangers did however help us plan our day and got us set up with their lovely camp ground. We purchased a few of the little trail guides and chose to do the South Mesa Trail first. We saw no one the entire trip and were overjoyed with the silence, beauty, and amazing geology and history of the area. They ask why was this place chosen for this cultural center. All you have to do is look around and you would have chosen the same spot.

Road to outlaying sites

Day 6 - Chaco Culture, Drive to Albuquerque

We hiked a few of the short trails we had missed the day before and then visited the ranger station for more guidance. They gave us a map of back country roads to see outlaying sites. These sites are very small in comparison for what one can see and the drive is horrendous, but we were game for a slow drive through the beautiful land. A day well spent!

Critter at the Albuquerque Zoo

Day 8 - Flight Home

Though we had a few misses, like going to see a petroglyph that has been closed to the world for decades (oops) almost getting busted under mistaken identity, a failed balloon ride, and a few scary hotels, we did have a lot of good adventures, too. Everything from dinosaurs along the highway, warm sopapillas, apple pie, and meeting some of the best park rangers on the planet made us promise ourselves to return the next year.