|A rough but fairly level hike to and around two collapsed lava tubes. This trail takes you through an open forest containing a variety of trees such as aspen, ponderosa pine, piñon and juniper. The lava tubes to which you hike are large and long (one of the longest in North America). They are unlike anything else you will see while hiking.|
|Hike data||Waypoints||Maps||Getting to the trailhead||About the hike||Plants along the trail||Comments|
When we hiked it:
|Time it took us:||3:30.|
|Usage (people/hour):||No data.|
|4WINDO||Cave entrance||Four Windows Cave entrance|
|BIGTUB||Trailhead||Big Tubes trailhead at El Malpais National Monument|
|BTSIGN||Trail junction||Big Tubes sign|
|CTRPLR||Trail point||Caterpillar collapse|
|Map name||Cartographer||Year||Scale||Topo map?||Online access||Notes|
|El Malpais Recreation Map and Guide||BLM||2008||1:100000||Y||from Amazon (purchase)||Great overview map for El Malpais area, including showing land ownership.|
|Geologic Map of El Malpais Lava Field and Surrounding Areas, Cibola County, NM||USGS (Charles Maxwell)||1986||1:62500||Y||No online copies.||For sale at the three visitor centers (NPS, BLM, Northern NM) around El Malpais.|
|Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah||Automobile Club of Southern California||1998||1:0||N||from Amazon (purchase)||Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.|
|Ice Caves||USGS||1967||1:24000||Y||from sar.lanl.gov (free)|
|Wildernesses of New Mexico||US Forest Service||1981||1:1000000||N||No online copies.||Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.|
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Getting to the trailhead:
Take exit 81 from I-40 and head south for a total of 23.9 miles. This is the El Malpais visitor center. It is a good idea to stop in here and inquire about getting to the trailhead. If it has rained recently, the road can be impassible. Also, check the forecast to see if rain is likely.
Continue from the visitor center 3.6 miles to the junction with County road 42. Turn left onto 42. A sign indicating that this road takes you past the Chain of Craters will help you know you have found the right road.
Drive about 4.1 miles down 42. You will see a sign indicating a left turn to get to the Big Tubes area. Go left (this may be indicated as NPS road 300).
After about 2.6 miles, a sign indicates the Big Tubes parking area to your left.
You have arrived. There is a small picnic area and vault toilet to the left of the trailhead. My photos are on the sign that is angled.
About the hike:
The trail takes off from the east side of the parking lot This trail is a cairn trail. It is easy to follow, as the cairns are large and there are plenty of them.
You start out walking in amongst Aspen and Ponderosa pine. The aspen end not long after you start, replaced by piñon and juniper.
Some of the trail is across aa lava. This lava is rough, sharp, and often clinks as you walk on it. Often, aa is formed of varying-sized, loose pieces of rock. It is easy to twist an ankle, so watch your step.
The other predominant form of lava out here is pahoehoe. It is smoother, sometimes ropy in appearance. You appreciate these differences in lava after hiking on both of them. The pahoehoe is much easier to walk on.
This photo was taken by Diana Northup.
After a little more than a quarter mile (about 0.5km), you come to a sign indicating various choices you can make (GPS: BTSIGN). For this hike turn left, heading towards Caterpillar collapse. You will return from the right.
Off on your right is one of the large lava tubes with portions collapsed. This trench contains Big Skylight cave. Note that all caves are currently closed on the monument, so do not enter them.
The trail follows this trench for a while. Besides getting different views of the trench, you get a chance to see some of the plant diversity out here. For example, the trail goes past some wild grapes (pictured here).
You leave Four windows and cross a bridge across the trench, where you will find a sign and a cairn. You can return to Big Skylight cave by following the cairn trail which takes off behind you as you look at the sign. However, doing so would prevent you from seeing Seven Bridges. Therefore, follow the cairn trail which leads to the right of the sign. A view up the trench showing one of the bridges is to the right.
From here, follow the cairn trail up the trench and back to Big Skylight Cave, where you find the trail back to the parking lot.
Plants we saw along the trail:
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