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Be careful interpreting map of El Calderon Trail!

My family recently returned from an enjoyable trip to New Mexico and Arizona. I learned a lot from my research on the TA forum, and found most of the info to be quite reliable. I’m merely adding some thoughts that were different from or didn’t find in my research, based on our experience. This is for El Malpais National Monument, specifically the El Calderon Trail and the trail map (page 3) associated with it. Link online is here:

nps.gov/elma/planyourvisit/upload/El-Caldero…

When we first arrived, we were in search of an open-ended lava tube (see post under "El Calderon Trail"), and it took us a while to figure out where it was. Since we didn’t realize it was at point 1 on the map, “Junction Cave,” we decided to check out the other parking lot listed at point 7, “Life on the Edge.” Wow, was this a trip… call it an offroading experience! Dirt road complete with lots of bumps!

Along the way, we came across a couple, walking on this dirt road, and spouse thought it would be a good idea to ask them if they were OK. So we did. They joked, “do we look like we need help?” – but actually they did!

To make a long story short, they had planned to take the El Calderon Trail (the 3 mile loop) highlighted on the map, but somewhere along the way got lost, ended up walking a trail that went AROUND and behind the cinder cone (point 5 on the map), which was obviously NOT highlighted on the map.

Had we not run into this couple, we too would have gotten lost, following the dirt road, marked as a line and double dot pattern, off the trail. We did manage to find the “parking lot” near point 7 and then turned around. We found it only because one of us figured out that “road closed to motorized vehicles” was in reference specifically to the dirt footpath, marked as dots only, and not highlighted on the map. In essence, it took four (tired!) adult brains to figure out accurately what this map was actually showing. Though we individually each got parts of the map right, we each also interpreted other parts of the map incorrectly as well.

Needless to say, we ended up giving the couple a ride back to the lot at point 1, and we found the lava tube with their guidance. The couple’s hike turned out to be much longer than they had planned (one of them looked really sunburned), and it was getting close to sun set (around 7:30pm at that time of year), which could have been dangerous for them as well as us if we had gotten lost. (The nearest visitor center locked their gates at 4:30pm, and we didn’t get to the trail until after 5:30pm)

I hope this helps future readers and visitors avoid the same confusion that we four adults encountered!