One perfect day in El Malpais National Monument

Experience the lava fields, breathtaking views, and some of the oldest Douglas firs around

Ted Alan Stedman

Soak in the landscape: Don’t miss El Malpais National Monument’s greatest hits. At Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, let your eye stretch for miles along the eastern flank of the Continental Divide. Then see the terrain up close with a quad-burner on the 7.5-mile Zuni-Acoma Trail as it crosses four major lava flows dressed up with black-eyed Susans, purple asters, and other splashes of summer’s bloom. From I-40, take exit 81 at Grants; go 23 miles south on State 53 to El Malpais Information Center;

An arch worth the march: More than 150 million years in the making, La Ventana Natural Arch (in the nearby El Malpais National Conservation Area) curls into a span of 135 feet. The short hike’s approach is a stunner, especially in late afternoon, when the sandstone takes a crimson hue. Hikers with mountain goat DNA can scramble around the base to get practically beneath the arch. From I-40, take exit 89 to State 117; go 17.4 miles south to milepost 39; 505/280-2918.

A new spot for old favorites: El Cafecito has long dished up the zip code’s best Mexican. In January, the restaurant expanded into a spiffy, larger space. Thankfully, it hasn’t changed the heaping plates of stuffed sopaipillas, chile-smothered huevos rancheros, and chiles rellenos. $; closed Sun; 820 E. Santa Fe Ave., Grants; 505/285-6229.

Go underground: “Everything starts with a hole in the ground,” proclaims the New Mexico Mining Museum, which pays homage to Grants’s notable boom-to-bust history of coal, gypsum, and uranium extraction. Exhibits of hard rock mining’s bygone era, along with fossils dating back to A.D. 700, tell of a hardscrabble existence. The real crowd-pleaser: descending into a re-created underground world to learn about drilling and blasting. $3; closed Sun; 100 N. Iron Ave., Grants; 505/287-4802.



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