We got to town just in time for a storm front to move in to the area, and with the summit of Mt. Taylor coming up in the next 20 miles, we figured it was best to wait for a day with better weather. Heavy winds, hail, and rain at 6436 feet, we knew what that meant was happening at 11,307 feet. We had been able to see the South side of Mt. Taylor on our hike into town, but with the thick clouds, we could no longer see what awaited us. A perfect day for a zero. Unfortunately, we still woke up ready to go at 5:30am. Instead of rushing to hit the road, we stayed in bed. At breakfast down in the lobby, we ran into Chris and Glimmer, who had just arrived to town. Hikers started appearing all around the area, and like us, everyone seemed to be in no rush to leave. We called the Carrot Express, a local public transportation service, and got a ride to the nearest coffee shop costing fifty cents each. The Perk Ranger Coffee House was just what we needed and a hot cup of the Piñon blend.
As we sat there enjoying our coffee and the company of Thor, Cruise, and Scrapebook, the owner's husband came in for lunch. Dressed in ranger attire, US Park Ranger Ryan serves as a ranger for El Malpais, and before moving to Grants, he was stationed in Death Valley.
He informed us that the Zuni-Acoma trail that we had hiked was almost totally original trail that the Native Americans had used as a trade route. We had walked a trail that had been present for thousands of years and the original cairns and bridges across the deep fissures of lava field. We sat amazed thinking about this. While we complained about a few miles of walking on lava, people in yuca sandals walked this path as a part of their lives. We continued to talk about the extensive system of lava tubes in the area and the rich mining history. He mentioned that the Malpais has some of the largest and most extensive lava tube cave systems in the United States including the longest tube and an ice cave. In these tubes archeologists have found numerous artifacts from the people that lived in this area. As far as mining in the area goes, everything from copper to uranium to pumice was mined in this area. Most of which are shut down now due to lack of demand and health problems caused from mining.
Although our conversation was brief, US Park Ranger Ryan's passion about the area was apparent.
It was time to head back to the hotel, so you bet we called up the Carrot Express again for a ride! This time when the five of us loaded up on the bus we were greeted by Charlie and Hannah. A bus full of hikers! We all rode back to the hotel area, before we headed to the Asian Buffet for lunch. At the buffet, eight of us sat around two tables that became packed with plates of food. Critter was able to find some vegetarian noodles, French fries, and cantaloupe. Although, her second plate consisted entirely of cantaloupe. Garbelly had no problem finding something he could eat. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel room for a nap and to soak our feet. However, the El Malpais Vistor Center seemed very intriguing from what we had read, and with the worst part of the storm approaching we figured we could make it there and back in time. A mile away stood the visitors center, with mountains in the background and small trails winding through the land between the visitor center and the distant mountains. The building was huge, and we were delighted to find so much information about the area and even a museum inside. We grabbed some postcards, National Park Animal Crackers, and an Audubon Field Guide for the Southwest. Now all the plants and animals that we had questions about were just a couple of pages away. It is definitely worth the little bit extra weight. We even had the chance to speak with an Americorp intern from Illinois, who studied geology before moving to the area. She helped answer questions about the lava flows and other elements of the area. They were fixing to close up, so we started out the door to head back to the hotel. Since our arrival to the visitor center, huge clouds had moved in and we could see rain falling not too far away. Naturally, we chose to run back to the safety of the hotel. Just as we made it under the awning, hail started to bounce off the ground.
We headed back up to our room to order another pizza and pack for our departure the following day.
Garbelly & Critter