Trip to Northern New Mexico and the Malpais National Monument

This past weekend, I packed up the bags, hopped in the Accord and hit the road again. This time, I went for Northern New Mexico where I’d visit family and catch a few sights. The first leg of the trip was from Las Cruces to Jamestown NM, which lies just 20 miles east of Gallup, NM. Total distance/time: 388 miles/8.4hrs. I chose a scenic, yet slow route which travels the backroads through the Gila and Apache National Forests.

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8:00am and I started down I-25 towards Deming where I’d pick up Hwy 180 towards Silver City and Glenwood.

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Being close to the Mexican boarder, there are many cars running around from Juarez. Some of these cars look quite foreign and thus, interesting to me. Here, for example, is a Toyota Avanza which is a small crossover not sold in the states. I’ve never seen one before until now. It’s always cool to spot these foreign cars around. I also often catch Renaults, Fiats (before they came back to the States last year) and even a few Alfa Romeos!

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Once on Hwy 180, the landscape started to turn green and hilly.

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A little west of Silver City, I crossed the Continental Divide at 6,200 ft. I’ve pretty much lived most of my life very near the Continental Divide. It wasn’t until recently when I realized just how significant the ‘Divide is.

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About 30 more miles and I entered the mighty Gila National Forest. This is the sixth largest National Forest in America and covers approximately 2,710,659 acres. Due to very rugged and desolate terrain, a majority of this forest is unspoiled. This also encompasses the Apache National Forest which I went through as well. According to a talk with a local park ranger a few months back, one could get lost in the wilderness and not be found for days even if traveling by foot that whole time.

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I happened to drive through at the perfect time of year…during the monsoon season. The ground was covered (for New Mexico, that is…) in green grass which only sprouts up this time of year.

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Soon, I arrived in Glenwood, NM. A small village of only 2,500 people (2010 Censes), this was actually one of my goals for this trip since it’s home to the Catwalk. This is a scenic trail known for its majestic views and for taking people down the gorgeous Whitewater canyon.

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I’ve never been and was excited at the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. (Photo from silvercity.org)

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As I drove into the village, it’s quite clear there wasn’t much here.

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The ‘Walk is about 5 miles northeast of Glenwood on Hwy 174.

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Here is the official marker before heading down Hwy 174.

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As I drove on, DEVASTATION!!! The level of disappointment couldn’t be measured in yards. However, I carried on to at least see why it was closed and if by some small chance, they forgot to take the sign down.

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The road to the ‘Walk was gorgeous with sycamore and elm trees lining the road on each side.

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There were a few signs like this warning of potential flooding.

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And…then I found out they weren’t kidding!

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The water wasn’t that deep, but the aggressive flow made me uneasy about plowing through it with the Accord. I decided to turn around and try the Catwalk another time.

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As I was turning around, this guy decided a little water wasn’t going to slow him down. His front-drive Dodge Caravan did squirm a bit, but he did make it across. Still, I didn’t want to chance it.

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Because I don’t think they test 2-door coupes in this kind of stuff…

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So, onward I went through the vast New Mexico wilderness on Hwy 180. The further I went, the greener it got.

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Then I was greeted with some storm clouds! Always welcome…even though I had just washed the Accord.

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I found this photo a perfect candidate to Photoshop the Accord to appear lowered. Doesn’t look half bad!

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The little mini pullouts every now and then rewarded me with different scenic views. I’m glad I filled up with gas in Deming since I hadn’t seen a service station for hours.

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And seeing this reminded me that I really was in the country.

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As I entered the deeper part of the Gila National Forest, the pine trees emerged.

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Then just 100 miles or so south of Gallup, it really started to pour. I loved every mile, every drop. That concluded the trip up to my destination. By now, I had been on the road for 7.5hrs and I was getting tired. Good thing my destination was only 30 mins away.

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The trip back was just as rewarding, if not more, than the start. I headed from Jamestown NM, down to the Malpais National Monument. Total distance/time: 385 miles/5.4hrs. This is a Monument in western New Mexico which in Spanish means, badlands. That is due to the extremely rugged and barren volcanic field. Some archaeological sites remain from the, Oasisamerica culturesNative Americans, and Spanish colonial and pioneer explorations.

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Just 10 miles south of Grants NM, takes you into the beautiful Malpais National Monument. The area covers roughly 114,000 aches and contains many different geological and archeological areas.

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I had two goals: to see the Sandstone Bluffs and La Ventana Arch. First stop was the Sandstone Site.

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A turn off Hwy 117 to the Sandstones took me to a coarse gravel road. Times like this makes me appreciate the stock, long suspension travel.

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After about 4 miles on the gravel road, I was greeted with signs all over warning tourists to stay away from the edge. Sounds fun!

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I saw a great spot where I could sneak between the concrete barriers and back the Accord right up to some of the sandstone bluffs. (No park rangers were to be seen at this point.)

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It was really neat to see these potholes, or tinajas, filled with water from the rains.

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A closer look reveals several little tadpoles swarming around. Looks like these potholes create temporary ecosystems.

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They came in all shapes and sizes.

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Pictures don’t do justice to how grand the views were.

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This reads from the park brochure:

Sandstone Bluffs overlooks millions of years of geologic history, from the 200-million year-old sandstone formed by ancient seas, to the 3000 year-old lava that borders the bluffs. From here, however, you see more than just rocks; you see a land that is part of the cultural history of the many people who have lived, and who continue to live, alongside this land of volcanoes and sandstone.

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Here’s the view from the top. The massive lava beds can be seen here at the base of the Bluffs.

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On the way out of the Sandstone Bluff park, I stopped at the Garrett Homestead which was built between 1935-1937. This was one of many homesteads built by families hoping to make lives in the west. However, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression meant most were abandoned to soon become ruins.

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I imagine that in its day, it was quite a robust structure.

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As you can see here, the road isn’t too far from the ruin.

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I liked that picture so much I decided to take a closer one of the Accord.

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Back on the Hwy 117 towards La Ventana arch.

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And here she is. Only 7 miles from the last stop.

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Thankfully, I had the parking lot to myself so I was able to capture this…

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This huge natural sandstone arch lies on the southern portion of the park. The hike up to the arch isn’t too far. This is about as far as you’re allowed to go.

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Next stop, home! I headed back on the highway where I’d hook up with the Interstate near Grants.

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And that concludes the trip. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Until next time…

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5 thoughts on “Trip to Northern New Mexico and the Malpais National Monument

  1. tysonhugie says:

    Jason, that was a bummer about the Catwalk being closed. That flooding across the road looked pretty intense; I bet you made the right choice by turning back. Love the Ventana arch – I hadn’t heard of that before! It’s pretty amazing how green the desert can be during the rainy season. Gorgeous pictures.

    • pawela says:

      Thanks, Tyson. A lot of neat things in New Mexico go unnoticed unfortunately. Mentana arch being one of many. I’m determined to get to the Catwalk this year sometime. I hope to have many more travels over the state to find these hidden gems. Looking forward to planning our next trip!

  2. Kevin Trinkle says:

    The Catwalk is amazing. There’s also a uncannily similar trail up in Banff National Park in Canada.

  3. […] on two occasions to see this town and both times the area was closed off. First time was in the Accord and second in the TL. A pretty wet monsoon season in 2013 turned the one and only road to and from […]

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