Robinson's, Mar 2016 · Index · Hermosa, Apr 2016

Trip Report: El Malpais National Monument

NMT Caving Club, March 26th 2016

This trip report covers a NMT Caving Club to The El Malpais National Monument. We met on campus at 9:00AM in the morning, went caving, and returned at about 9:00PM.

Trip leader: David Hunter

Attending: Matt, Joe, Barton, and Ben

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.

While many of them are closed to the public, permits for several can be obtained at the visitor centers.

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. Fortunately, the forecast was for a rain free day. As we were in a low clearance vehicle we had to park partway to the cave and hike from there.

Parked near the trail head.

Once on the malpais the hiking is very rough. We followed a trail established by the park service which was of limited help. Hikers have to be very careful when traveling in this area.

The rugged El Malpais landscape.

The first cave we visited was Big Skylight cave, named for it's big skylight.

The skylight in Big Skylight cave

The main entry of the cave is at the edge of Caterpillar Collapse.

Another view of the skylight.

Luckily for all the non-vertical cavers on the trip there is a path that allows for decent into the cave. It is mostly walking with a couple short & easy climbs.

The group going into Big Skylight

Once inside there is a good view of the skylight. Below the skylight is a large patch of moss. Visitors should go around it to the left as it is fragile and should be protected.

The skylight and moss growing underneath.

An assortment of interesting rocks, formed when the lava flowed through here, can be found. They make for nice pictures but must be returned to where they are found so that future visitors can enjoy then.

A rock found in (and left in) the cave.

A few ice formations add to the enjoyment of the cave.

Some ice formations.

There is a short section of large passage. Past the skylight it continues to a junction. From there the cave forms a couple small loops. We met a couple of spelunkers of whom were unsure as to the best exit route. We pointed them in the correct direction. And, we left, we insured that they had made it out of the cave.

A section of lava tube passage.

A short crawl gave the beginning cavers a gentle introduction to the grueling crawls that await should they continue caving.

A caver in a crawl.

A short climb provided a similar introduction to the vertical aspects of caving.

On top of a ledge.

An unknown spelunker scattered sunflower seed shells. This is especially inappropriate in caves. Those shells will remain for a very long time, slowly putrefying and providing an unpleasant encounter for future visitors. We cleaned up a some of them but did not have the time to get them all.

Leftover sunflower husks.

After exiting Big Skylight Cave we went to the nearby Big Ice Cave. Despite the impressive entry it is barely deep enough to have a proper dark zone.

Entry to Big Ice Cave.

With some searching we did find a little ice, but opinions were mixed as to if it lived up to the name of the cave.

An ice formation

One of the largest ice patches of the cave had a few good ice formations.

Another ice formation.

After exiting Big Ice cave we proceeded back to the car. The extra hiking (since we couldn't drive to the trail head) resulted in a somewhat late return. Thankfully we were back well before our emergency contacted started worrying.

Robinson's, Mar 2016 · Index · Hermosa, Apr 2016

Last Updated: April 2016; Original Posting.

© David C. Hunter, 2016
nmtcaver {at) dragonsdawn (dot] org

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