BLM El Malpais NCA - Chain of Craters Back Country Byway
This 33 mile rough, dirt road connects NM-53 & NM-117, and gives access to the western side of El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA). The road provides views of the lava flows and volcanic cinder cones, as well as the sandstone bluffs to the east. It passes through grasslands and ancient lava to the south, then rises gently into pinyon-juniper hills in the middle, and ends in more recent lava flows and Ponderosa Pine at the north end. Opportunities for wildlife viewing are ample and increase walking away from the vehicle when the motor is off.
Can you tell how old the lava is? After a while you will see the difference in vegetation and color of the fresher vs. the older flows.
This road is rugged for driver and vehicle. Much of it is over old but rough lava hidden by soil that turns rapidly into a quagmire in wet conditions year round. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best. Bicycles and motorized vehicles must stay on designated roads. Much of the road flanks the West Malpais Wilderness. Stop in at the ranger station for a map and road conditions.
Length of Byway or Route
33 rugged unpaved miles