Published: August 18th 2007August 12th 2007
Today, we plan to explore two National Monuments: the lava flows and caves along the Chain of Craters Road in El Malpais and the sandstone rock formation of El Morro.
To begin the journey, we take NM Highway 53 along El Malpais’s western edge. At the visitor’s center, Ranger Maryanna Ireland tells us that the best spot for photographing the lava flows and sandstone cliffs is along Highway 117, on the eastern side (where we passed yesterday). Since we don’t have time to backtrack, it’s added to our list of future trips.
And, thanks to more advice from Ranger Ireland, we aren’t still stuck in El Malpais waiting for our car to be rescued.
“You want to drive the Chain of Crater’s Road?” she asks.
“Yes,” Alan says, “I’m an experienced four wheeler.”
“We had 2 -plus inches of rain day before yesterday. Four wheel drive won’t help you in wet lava and caliche.” Ranger Ireland points to a scrapbook with picture after picture of vehicles mired in the mud. “When the mud dries, it forms a cement like substance that has to be chiseled off,” she adds.
Alan says, “I still want to try
it. I’ll turn around if the mud looks too bad.”
“You can take the drive but if you get stuck, you are on your own. The only way out will be by helicopter,” Ranger Ireland adds.
Back in the car, Alan turns left onto Chain of Crater’s Road. Within a few hundred feet, the first mud puddle appears.
Alan stops the car. He looks at me, “I won’t get us stuck. At the first sign of trouble, I’ll turn around.”
“The ranger said it will be too late by then. I sure hate to miss the rest of the trip waiting to be rescued,” I reply.
Alan starts the car, moves a few feet forward, then stops again. “Ok, I don’t want to get stuck either. Let’s go to El Morrow.”
We put Chain of Craters Road on our return list. But, next time we’ll come during September when it’s dry.
By now, it’s almost noon and the day is getting hot. At El Morro, we take a path that meanders around the base of the sandstone cliff. A pool of water nestles into a curve in the rock formation. Snowmelt and
rain replenish the pool, which was a stopping place for ancient and not-so-ancient travelers.
Etched into the walls is history’s equivalent of “I was here.” From petroglyphs, to poems by Spanish explorers, to the perfect penmanship of a Western adventurer, the markings in stone prove they passed this way.
A staircase carved into the rock begins an upward climb up the side of the cliff. At the top, remnants of an ancient pueblo provides proof that someone also lived here.
Because of the heat, we skip the hike to the top saving it for a cooler day or an earlier start. Another trip to add to the list.
After lunch at the picnic grounds, we start the drive towards Cortez, Colorado where we stop for the night.
A good seafood dinner in landlocked Colorado doesn’t seem possible but Dry Dock Restaurant proves it can be done. Alan and I sit on the patio while Jimmy Buffet songs drift from the radio. Dinner arrives and the shrimp combination plate of fried shrimp, coconut shrimp and grilled shrimp is delicious.
The night’s live entertainment begins when Donny Johnson of Donny Johnson’s One Man Band stands at
the microphone. Wearing a cowboy hat with a US flag for a hatband, his long white ponytail bouncing to the beat, Johnson begins a rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Returning to the Comfort Inn, Alan and I sit on the deck that overlooks the mesa. We sip our wine and watch the sun go down, the perfect ending to a great travel day. Silently, I say a thank you to Ranger Ireland. After all, we could be wading through El Malpais’s mud waiting to be rescued.
There are more photos below