While we are further exploring the Southeast of New Mexico, we are camped in an area called the Valley of Fires – a large lava field. We discover places to visit through a variety of methods. In this case, we found the Valley of Fires through a program on the Smithsonian Channel called Aerial America. They do state-by-state episodes and much of the photography is from the air. Unfortunately, we don’t regularly receive this channel and we DVR as many Aerial America shows as we can whenever Directv runs a free preview.
The Valley of Fires is operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service (NPS) is also a part of the Department of Interior. NPS administers all of the National Parks and most of the National Monuments. It seems the BLM administers most of the rest of federal lands. The Valley of Fires is a federal recreation area, we guess which means it is not sufficiently significant to qualify as a National Park or a National Monument or administration by the NPS.
But it is a interesting place just the same. 1,500 to 5,000 years ago, very recent in geological terms, there was a huge lava flow here. The lava didn’t spew from the top of a volcano but rather vented from the ground. The flow is 2 to 5 miles wide, 44 miles long and up to 165 feet deep. We also have now arrived at our first 12,000 foot mountain peak as well.
The hill we are camped on is right above the lava field and largely surround by it. The campsites are large with casitas and picnic tables. In these areas, it would probably be way too hot in the summer to use an uncovered picnic table. The campsites have water and 50 amp service for $18 a day.
There is an asphalt trail way through the lava field. The lava is very craggy. It isn’t formed that way. It actually flowed in very smooth rivers of molten rock. But as the outer portions of the flows hardened, the hot lava underneath stayed molten and flowing, creating open tubes underneath the surface. Over time, the tubes collapsed and created the very rough landscape. It can be very windy in this area. (We know this from being hunkered down for the last two days with wind gusts up to 50mph). The winds distribute dirt and sand across the lava field where it is trapped is cracks and crevices of the lava. Desert plants then grow in this thin soil making for a surprising amount of vegetation in the lava field.
The Valley of Fires is located right next to the upper end of the White Sands Missile Test Range. Those weren’t claps of thunder we heard when we first arrived. The missile test range is quite active.