El Morro & El Malpais National Monuments

I love cutting out three or four days from my schedule and just rambling, camera in hand, to areas I have always wanted to visit or revisit. No schedule, no major assignment breathing down my neck, just the pure, unadulterated joy of being out in nature soaking it in.

For eight glorious days I was in New Mexico, four days on an assignment of sorts, and four days for myself, wandering through several National Monuments. I’ve already described Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in a previous blog (http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2011/05/25/tent-rocks-rocks/), and here I’ll briefly describe El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments, which are near to each other and can be photographed in a day if you plan wisely. Of course, if you had a month and planned wisely, you’d have an even better photo experience!

El Morro

El Morro (The Headlands) is a smaller Monument than El Malpais. I love its accessibility, both for photographers and people with disabilities. From the visitors center there is a wonderful paved, circular path that takes one along the spectacular rock formation that is its mainstay scenic and to a small pool of water that was a godsend to the early settlers. The Zuni people built a pueblo atop the El Morro mesa around 1275 that eventually housed as many as 1,500 residents. The hikes around the mesa are populated with lots of interesting petroglyphs.

If you go early in the morning, the sun lights up the rock face and the pool area, so plan your visit to take full advantage of that. Hike around the mesa to get a feel for heavenly silence that the Zuni Indians were blessed with.

El Malpais

El Malpais is a much larger and more varied park. I’d recommend that, at the very least, you plan to shoot at Sandstone Buffs area for good panoramic images.

Ten minutes down the road you can finish your tour at La Ventana natural arch. As the sun finally sets over the high desert, you’ll be treated to an incredible show as the arch lights up. It’s a dazzling way to end a satisfying photographic ramble.

If You Go

Remember to bring lots of water if you plan to hike to the top of the trail. Also, be sure to wear solid hiking shoes that cover your ankle; anything less and you’ll be dumping gritty sand from your shoes every few minutes. Because of the dust, I recommend that you keep your camera either in your backpack or in a protective bag and pull it out only as needed.

As with any hike in New Mexico, wear plenty of sunscreen, wear a hat (and long sleeves and pants if you are sun sensitive), sunglasses and watch out for snakes. The later warning is only generic, as Tent Rocks has enough human presence that snakes avoid the area… but watch out for snakes! I always carry a snake bite kit.

You will also want to plan your visit to accommodate early morning or late afternoon shooting. Look at a map and check on sunrise/sunset times so that you time your appearance for when those rock faces will be glowing.

Finally, make good use of the ranger stations at both parks. Your tax money pays for it, so why not take advantage of the rangers’ intimate knowledge of their surroundings and follow some of their recommendations. The stations also offer a variety of brochures and exhibits that will better inform your photography.

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