January 26, 2016, ABQ Free Press
PC: Ice Caves
Moriah Carty shows us the exciting adventures in Grants, NM
West of Albuquerque stretch the ‘badlands’ better known as El Malpais. Which translates to exactly that, the badlands.
The term itself is almost overused in New Mexico. Internet searches pull up the Bisti Wilderness, a section of the San Juan Basin, also collectively known as the badlands. The idea of a barren landscape – seemingly much of New Mexico – must be a badland.
But that isn’t so. If you are familiar with New Mexico ecology, you know it is full of diverse and unique life. The high desert is special in that way.
North of El Malpais lays another historic city, Grants, our first stop. Head west of Albuquerque on I-40, then take exit 85, merging onto State Highway 117. Make a right on McArthur Street then another right on Nimitz Drive. Breakfast is on the right.
Albuquerque to Coco Bean Café: 79 miles
Coco Bean Café is a low-key place with lots to offer. Be it tea or coffee, they have variety – and scrumptious pastries to pair.
During your charming meal, several ‘regulars’ walk in, completing the cozy, café vibe. Sip slowly, the morning will be over too soon.
Before you leave, pick up some sugary carbs for later. It’s ok, though, there’s a long day of physical activity ahead.
Back onto Nimitz Drive, head toward Route 66/Santa Fe Ave. and eventually make it to NM-122 E/NM-53 W. Stay on NM-53. The signs will help guide you to the exciting Ice Cave.
Coco Bean Café to Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano: 28.3 miles
The couple’s family has a long history with the land, so make sure to catch a few tales while you mosey around the western-esque gift shop.
The short hike to the actual ice cave is often met with friendly, but feral cats. A strange find in such a harsh environment.
The trail meets up with a rickety wooden staircase. As you descend, the air becomes a little cooler each step. The sun eventually hides behind the rock face and the temperature plummets to a balmy 31 degrees Fahrenheit. The greenish ice is a bit eerie. The water drips in the uncanny cave.
The ice is about 20 feet thick and some ice is believed to be over 3,000 years old. The ice used to be mined until the mid-1900s.
When you’re too cold, hike back up and take the trail to the Bandera Volcano. The trail takes about an hour round trip.
The volcano is an impressive cinder cone at just over 8,000 feet. It is about 800 feet deep and 1,200 feet across. It seems bigger than that when you stand at the lookout point.
Time to head over to the main attraction. Retrace your driving tracks to I-40, then head east to exit 89. Follow NM-117 to the arch.
Ice Cave to La Ventana Natural Arch in El Malpais: 24.1 miles
New Mexico is never boring. Believe it or not, this is the second largest natural arch in the state, and we have quite a few.
The short hike puts you a little distance from the base. It towers over you magnificently.
Head back to Grants to El Cafecito restaurant on Route 66/Santa Fe Ave.
La Ventana Natural Arch to El Cafecito: 23.8 miles
Nothing like a true New Mexico dinner to complement an exceptional day in the outdoors.
The perfect food and service set up the scene for a perfect evening. The food melts in your mouth. It’s heaven.
The sopapillas come out steaming hot, nothing could be better. The day is almost over, but the conversation is exciting. You and your friends spend some time reminiscing about the last place you had food that good and you can’t remember it.
When the excitement wears down, jump back in the car.
El Cafecito to Albuquerque: 79.6 miles
Another full belly and day of excitement under the sun concludes this week’s adventure.