The Story of New Mexico: Las Ventanitas Ridge (El Malpais)

Sandstone Bluffs #1The Eagle #2The Courtyard

A couple of weekends ago, we hiked the Las Ventanitas Ridge in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. The occasion was another tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

El Malpais (pronounced el-mal-pie-EES) means “the badlands” in Spanish. It lies south and west of Grants, New Mexico, about an hour-and-a-half from Albuquerque. El Malpais consists of a National Monument, managed by the National Park Service (NPS), and a National Conservation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Las Ventanitas Ridge lies in the northeastern portion of the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Las Ventanitas means “little windows” in Spanish.

We left Albuquerque on a cold, sunny, winter morning. We drove for almost an hour heading west on I40, until we reached the turn-off onto a well-maintained secondary road. After another 30 minutes of driving, we pulled over at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook and left our vehicle. Although we had beautiful skies, the weather was in the 30s: both temperature and wind speed!

We hiked along the top of the sandstone bluffs heading generally north, until we reached a point where we could scramble several hundred feet down to the base of the bluffs. As usual, there were no trails and very little evidence of human passage. The only sound was the whistling of the wind. We hiked for several hours on the relatively flat land between the bluffs and lava flows, which the monument is best known for. We enjoyed exploring the beautiful geology so typical of New Mexican badlands.

Around every turn was a new marvel. In the course of our hike, we explored soaring sandstone towers and saw several of the natural arches or “windows,” which give the area its name. We saw ancient petroglyphs, which provide mute testimony the area’s long human history. We saw ancient petroglyphs, which provide mute testimony the area’s long human history. We visited the ruins of a small Anasazi “outlier pueblo,” which sits on the mesa top above a 50-foot long natural arch with views across the contorted black lava fields, where we saw abundant Anasazi pottery shards. For the first time ever on one of our hikes, we encountered not one, but two other groups who were exploring the area. Eventually, we returned to the top of the bluffs and worked our way back to our vehicle.

The combination of rough terrain, cold temperatures, and gusty winds made this hike one of the most strenuous we have been on. This was our first hike of 2012, but it won’t be our last!

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: Las Ventanitas Ridge (El Malpais). Enjoy!

This entry was posted in The Story of New Mexico.