The majestic Sandstone Bluffs are simply a must to experience while touring El Malpais National Monument. These towering pale yellow sandstone cliffs overlook the vast El Malpais lava flow, which covers the entire valley. The lush green forests on the high ground and distant mountains along with the clear blue skies combine to add an intriguing color contrast to the jet black valley down below. By throwing the massive yellow sandstone bluffs into the mix, the panoramic views are guaranteed to be a visual experience like no other!
The Sandstone Bluffs are located in the east side of the park and the dirt access road is well maintained, so an average passenger car can easily get to this spot. It pays to drive slow through the pine forest wilderness and meadows, because a few historic homestead sites can be seen on the way to the parking area. There are facilities on site and plenty of shade trees for a picnic, so it is easy to spend the day in this picturesque place.
There are no marked hiking trails at Sandstone Bluffs because of the nature of the terrain and visitors are free to roam all over this towering yellow sandstone perch. Near the edge, the views of the looking north reveal many branching arms of bare sandstone that tower over the valley all the way to the distant hills. Hiking down to the base of the Sandstone Bluffs is an option as well, but there will be some climbing involved. There are also remnants of ancient villages along the rim, which are a must to check out.
The environmental forces that created the sandstone in this region occurred eons ago, while the volcanic activity at El Malpais happened only about 3,000 years ago. There is a legendary native story about how and why the valley down below was filled with black lava which is interesting to look into. This famous native story does indeed confirm that this region was occupied when the volcanic eruptions occurred and it truly must have been a great sight to see. Hearing this story from those who really know is easy to do at the local tribal trading posts in the villages around El Malpais.
Anywhere that a visitor goes on top of the Sandstone Bluffs will require some boulder hopping and crevice leaping. Care must be taken to prevent injury, because any hope of rescue will take about half a day to get to this remote location. With this in mind, be sure to stay extra hydrated in this high elevation area to prevent dizzy spells, especially on a hot day. On a final note, the majestic beauty of the Sandstone Bluffs do have a way of making people stop every few steps to take in the breathtaking scenery, so be sure to plan on spending some extra time enjoying the eagle eye views!
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