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Albuquerque, NM: El Malpais Big Tubes

Be prepared, you might spend all day exploring tubes and cave entrances in this cairn-laden route in El Malpais National Monument’s Bandara Lava Flow.

Trip Tools

Few trails exist in the rugged volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument. Though cairns (and occasional signs) mark the highlights of this route, pick up a brochure at the trailhead, be prepared to practice route-finding skills, and pay attention to trailside features to avoid getting lost. If you plan to venture into any of the caves, be careful to avoid damaging microclimate mosses near the cave entrances and bring 3 sources of light.
This loop begins heading west from the Big Tubes Trailhead 0.3 miles to a junction that marks the beginning of the main cave and collapse area. There are three main branches of the trail and this route heads out-and-back on the middle branch and then makes a clockwise loop connecting the north and south branches with a southbound 0.5-mile cross-country trek.
Four Windows (on the middle branch) is the most easily explored of Big Tubes’ cave entrances, but there are easy-access points to Big Skylight (near the trail junction), Catepillar Collapse (on the north branch), Seven Bridges Collapse (on the south branch) and many of the smaller trenches flanking this route.
-Mapped by Christina Frain

To Trailhead

Take I-40 78 miles west of Albuquerque to exit 81. Turn left onto NM-53 and drive 26.2 miles (past Ice Caves entrance). Turn left onto FR 42 and follow signs 7.3 miles to the Big Tubes Trailhead. Check conditions: high-clearance vehicles recommended, and roads are notoriously impassable after rain.

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