Natural Resource Condition Assessments for El Malpais National Monument

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program provides framework, funding, and publishing support to parks to aid in the synthesis and documentation of natural resource conditions. Condition assessment reports are a tool to describe selected park resources, and record a snapshot of their current condition, identify trends, and identify potential or current threats and stressors. Understanding the condition and trend of natural resources is key for parks and NPS planners to appropriately prioritize and allocate stewardship resources.

A landscape of sandstone rocks lit by sunlight
Sandstone Bluffs overlook at El Mapais National Monument.

NPS Photo

For centuries people have lived around and sometimes in the lava country. Ancient Indian civilizations crossed the lava flows with trail cairns and related to the landscape with stories and ceremony. Spanish empire builders detoured around it and gave it the name used today. Homesteaders settled along its edges and tried to make the desert bloom. The stories of all these people are preserved in the trail cairns, petroglyphs, wall remnants, and other fragments that remain in the backcountry of El Malpais National Monument. Located in western New Mexico, the monument is well known for the volcanic geology and unique habitats it preserves, such as the pygmy pine forests growing on the vast lava fields.

Traditional NRCA Report: 2016

In order to better understand the natural resources and processes in this park, a Natural Resource Condition Assessment was conducted, and published in 2016. The assessment was a collaborative project between NPS and cooperators from Utah State University, University of West Florida, and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative. The team chose 17 natural resource topics to evaluate:

- Viewshed

- Caves and cave ice

- Night sky

- Tinajas

- Soundscape

- Pinion-Juniper

- Air quality

- Ponderosa pine

- Surface geology

- Grasslands and shrublands

- Distinct vegetation communities

- Bats

- Exotic plants

- Birds

- Cave ecology and species


- Mammals

The landscape-scale resource topics included viewshed, night sky, and soundscape. Results of the assessment showed the viewshed and soundscape resources were in good condition, given the fact that the monument is located in a rural setting and surrounded by large areas of protected land. The night sky resource was in good to moderate condition but is unfortunately impacted by Albuquerque, New Mexico’s light pollution at some locations in the monument. The monument’s supporting physical environment topics included air quality, surface geology, caves and cave ice, and tinajas. The condition for all of these resources was moderate, except for caves and cave ice where no condition determination was made due to lack of data. The biological integrity resources included four vegetation topics and exotic plants and five wildlife topics, which included cave ecology and organisms, mammals, bats, birds, and herpetofauna. The vegetation resources were in good condition, except for distinct vegetation and exotic plants, which were unknown. The only wildlife condition rating was for bats, which was good. The remaining wildlife conditions were unknown due to lack of recent data.

Resource condition information is used by park managers for a variety of resource planning and comprehensive park management purposes.

For other reports and natural resource datasets visit the NPS Data Store.

Source: Data Store Collection 7765 (results presented are a subset). To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Last updated: June 29, 2022


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