Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sandstone Bluffs in El Malpais National Monument

Upon arriving at any new place, getting a lay of the land helps me get grounded.  I want to know the names of all the surrounding peaks and the shapes of the valleys.  As if this will help me find my way.
Looking out over the expanse of lava.
The gravel road to Sandstone Bluffs goes high above the lava flows, up to an overlook. While there are no maintained trails, social trails criss cross the area leading to natural arches and historic sites.  I took the guidebook’s suggestion to follow the rim northward for a couple of miles, then drop down and return along the base of the 500 foot cliffs. 
Looking out from the 200 million year old sandstone bluff across the 3000 year old lava beds.
Heading north along the top of the bluffs, with Mt. Taylor in the distance.
Footprints from other hikers are scarce this time of year.  Where the wandering paths social trails or animal trails?  Did it even matter?  
Leave what you find.
While I picked up a few pottery sherds to examine them, I was careful to nestle them back into the mud in the exact place I’d found them.  People settled in this area along the lava a thousand years ago.
Natural arches, hidden from view from above, can be found by scrambling through sandstone formations.
Sometimes, we don’t spend enough time just wandering where our curisity takes us.  Its easy to get trapped in the drive to “accomplish” miles or complete trails. Merely exploring doesn’t allow you to say how many miles you did.  But exploring gives you that feeling that is beyond quantification.

More information:

Sandstone Bluffs

As with most off-trail travel, don’t count on doing your usual miles per hour— backtracking and wandering to find a way through required extra time. 

To park for this hike, travel on NM 117 south of Grants, NM and turn right at the sign for the Sandstone Bluffs.  The 1.5 mile gravel road to the parking area is fairly well drained and mostly in full sun, therefore it was clear of snow and mud, and passible in a small car on a clear day.  Check at the ranger station for current conditions.

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