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          Front Page

May 6, 1999


  • Highlights: Eerie sculptures, framed in New Mexico blue. Good challenge.
  • Location: On Interstate 40 near Grants, head south down N.M. 117 15 miles and park one car at the Zuni-Acoma trailhead sign, anywhere along the road. If you're using the two-car method, take the other car back onto I-40, exiting south (exit 81), onto highway 53 for 16 miles, to the parking area on your left.
  • Round-trip distance: About 7 miles using two cars; 14 miles round trip from the starting point.
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult. Bi- or tri-focals wearers may have trouble.
  • Elevation: About 6,700 feet
  • Cautions: Bring extra water and gloves
  • Maps: At the visitor center on N.M. 117 and at trailhead boxes
  • Printable map

  • Zuni-Acoma Trail

    Fifteen miles south of Grants, in two separate eruptions, lava broke through the earth's crust, creating El Malpais, or the Spanish name for "The Badlands." The term has shortened in this part of the world to "Malpai" meaning "what was laid down by flowing rock."
    An ancient connection between Pueblos, the 7{-mile Zuni-Acoma trail is a formidable walk. It can be done from either way, but west to east, using two cars, is suggested by experienced hikers of the trail.
    Bring plenty of extra water, and never leave the trail posts or cairn until you have sighted the next. It is very easy to get lost. Good boots go without saying, but gloves are a help. Cactus and sharp rock abound; reaching a hand to steady a step, can be placed on either one.
    The older western section of the trail, which flowed from El Calderon, maybe 250 million years ago, is difficult and unstable -- a real boot-wringer. One eye off the trail, and you're tripping. Jagged chunks of unstable lava of every size create the landscape.
    The newer part contains a limestone island, a bit of a respite, but soon hikers enter lava tubes of the Bandera Flow. The youngest lava is the McCarty, called pahoehoe (pa-hoy-hoy). The vegetation is sparse, the landscape stark black, with ropes, and odd sculptures flowed a thousand years ago. One can only imagine the smoke and fire that filled it once long ago. Ancient bridges have been laid down over two- and three-foot fissures; cairns were built a thousand years ago. Sink holes, caves and pot holes appear without warning.
    While there's no elevation gain to speak of, it's a challenge from one end to the other, and well worth the effort. Views are expansive, and the lava is wonderfully tubed, cracked, flowed, humped, pitted and sharp. It's like tap dancing across a whole table covered with clattering dinner plates.

    Isabel Bearman Bucher