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West Malpais Wilderness

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Large Ponderosa pine trees dot grassy rolling hills
Library image #4187: Open ponderosa forest

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the West Malpais Wilderness (map) in 1987 and it now has a total of 39,540 acres. All of this wilderness is located in New Mexico and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Description

El Malpais is Spanish for "the badlands," a name that perfectly describes this region of New Mexico, where countless volcanic eruptions sent rivers of molten rock and flying cinders over what is now a rough plain of three million years' worth of hardened lava. The last of the eruptions would have been witnessed by Native American residents. This volcanic landscape supports a surprising amount of vegetation. Even on terrain that one would presume to be barren, wind-deposited soil has thickened enough to support grasses, cacti, aspen, pine, juniper, and fir. One geological feature named Hole-In-The-Wall, is an area that lava flowed around, leaving an area with developed soils and stands of large ponderosa pine.

You may see elk, deer, or antelope here, and during summer a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats migrates between some of the nearby lava tube caves. No groundwater exists, so pack plenty.

The West Malpais Wilderness is within the El Malpais National Conservation Area (managed by the BLM).

Planning to Visit the West Malpais Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the West Malpais Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.