How else can you grow?

As I mentioned in my last post, summer is rapidly approaching and I am 100% ready for it. With all of the hiking I hope to do this summer, I’ve decided that it’s time to up the ante a bit on my hikes in preparation for what’s to come. I love varying the strenuousness of my hikes, so this isn’t to say that I’ll be doing nothing but ass-kickingly hard trails from here on out, but I definitely want to throw in some hikes that really push my limits both mentally and physically.

Last Monday was the perfect day to start training. It was not my President’s day and I had the day off from work, so I recruited my always-down-for-adventure mom to join me for a hike that fit my criteria. The weather on Sunday was supposed to be rainy and, while I have a fantastically capable adventure mobile (a ’92 Toyota Land Cruiser), I wanted to focus on the hike instead of worrying about muddy roads or ending up in a high elevation where I’d need the proper footwear for ice or snow. After some brainstorming, we finally settled on the Zuni-Acoma trail at El Malpais National Monument.

El Malpais is a very easy hour from Albuquerque, so we weren’t too concerned about getting an early start and left town at around 10:30 am. The weather was lovely – bright blue skies and no chance of rain. We made a quick pit stop at the El Malpais National Monument visitor’s center outside of Grants, where we encountered the most delightfully bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young park ranger ever. After picking up a map of the area and quickly browsing the gift shop, we drove to our trailhead about 20 miles into the conservation area.

Rugged Zuni Acoma Trail Landscape, hiking El Malpais in New Mexico

While this trail’s elevation doesn’t vary much, the challenge lies in the technical difficulty of navigating it’s 9 miles of rugged lava-covered terrain. Lucky for us, by the time we arrived at the trailhead, the lava had been cooling for a solid 2,500 years! 🙌 🙌 🙌

Rugged Zuni Acoma Trail Landscape, hiking El Malpais in New Mexico

The trail is part of the famed Continental Divide Trail and is 9 miles one-way. Crossing the Zuni-Bandera lava field, the trail itself is almost entirely invisible, save for sections of soft sandy trail.

Rugged Zuni Acoma Trail Landscape, hiking El Malpais in New Mexico

Where the soft sand ends and the lava begins!

Lava cairn in the rugged Zuni Acoma Trail landscape, hiking El Malpais in New Mexico

Cairns with weathered logs poking out the tops help guide the way across the rugged lava sections. At times, it feels a bit like a hunt trying to spot the next cairn to guide us across the fractured terrain!

Looking at lava fracture in danner boots while hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

You can actually thru-hike this trail, as there’s a road to the trailhead on the other side. We might attempt this in the fall, but only in the fall because, evidently, in the summer, this place will MELT YOU.

Lava landscape while hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

My mom modeling the section of lava I nicknamed the Post-apocalyptic Parking Lot.

Lava landscape while hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

Lava landscape and cairns, hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

Fun fact!

This trail is most commonly known as the Zuni-Acoma trail, unless you start the hike on the east end (which we did). Then, it’s referred to as the Acoma-Zuni trail. This is because the trail has actually been in use for centuries as a thoroughfare between the Zuni and Acoma pueblos; the Zuni pueblo is to the east of the lava field, and the Acoma pueblo is to the west. Some of the cairns that mark the trail today were constructed by the people who used to walk this path centuries ago!

Several prehistoric man-made “bridges” are also be found along the trail, making some of the larger crevasses easier to navigate across. Also, I’m not usually one to hike with poles, but my mom insisted that I bring them on this hike and I was SO GLAD I did.

My potsherd love affair continues…

At one point we came across this amazing tree which appears to have spent its life literally spinning as it grew. I MEAN.

I find so much joy in searching for the hidden beauty in seemingly stark, barren landscapes like this one.

Lava landscape while hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

Lava landscape while hiking El Malpais Zuni-Acoma Trail in New Mexico

We found ourselves back at the trailhead at 5pm, after hiking a little over five miles. Our pace for the day was as slow as it needed to be to ensure that we didn’t snap a leg in a crevasse, and we weren’t preoccupied with covering a great distance on terrain like that. My feet were sore from bouncing across hard lava all day, but overall I felt quite accomplished for having not twisted an ankle or turned back the second I realized just how harsh the trail was. We also didn’t see another soul out there the entire day. This is always such a treat after having spent the last few years navigating the often packed trails around Portland. This huge abundance of unpopulated wild places to escape to and explore is definitely one of my favorite things about New Mexico!

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Written by Sara
Desert dwelling nature lover. Forever striving to live a life of adventure, wholeheartedness, and curiosity.