Collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Rio Puerco Field Office, the nonprofit Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is on a mission to improve the visual appeal of El Malpais National Conservation Area via the El Malpais Community Arts Program. As stated on the BLM’s website, they’ve “invited artists from El Malpais’ surrounding areas to participate in a unique collaboration: to create a narrative connection between art and land stewardship, history, culture, and land conservation.”
The region’s remarkable topography, filled with molten rock plains and natural sandstone archways, has been a tourist draw for countless years. Starting at the newly renovated El Malpais BLM Ranger Station, visitors are now welcomed by a range of artistic works including mural paintings and sculpted pieces, crafted by local talent to reflect the “history, culture, art, and landscape of El Malpais.” Situated 9 miles south on Hwy 117, the visitors center is near the town of Grants in New Mexico.
The Zuni-Bandera volcanic fields are the centerpiece of the El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA), which is adorned with remarkable sandstone ledges, deep-cut canyons, and noteworthy attractions like La Ventana Natural Arch, Chain of Craters Back Country Byway, and Joe Skeen Campground, offering 10 free sites with no need for advance booking. Additional highlights within the NCA’s boundaries include the Narrows Picnic Area and the untamed regions of Cebolla and West Malpais Wilderness Areas. It’s also an access point for the Continental Divide Trail within the NCA. Visitors can enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, picnicking, and nature study in its diverse ecological niche.
The area’s history predates the arrival of Spanish explorers, with Indigenous peoples tapping into its natural and mineral bounty for over 10,000 years. The BLM web resource indicates, “More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Native American groups, including the Ramah Navajo and Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering plant materials, paying respect, and renewing ties.”
Local artists recently had an opportunity to present proposals for a large-scale sculpture to be situated in the ranger station’s parking zone. Acoma-based artist Walt Torres was ultimately chosen, and the artwork is currently under development at the station.
The program is now soliciting submissions from artists interested in crafting murals. Two lucky muralists will each receive a $5,000 fund to produce works that enrich visitor interactions.
The El Malpais Community Art Program offers regular intervals for nearby artists to share their art with the public. A recent August 2023 event highlighted pieces from three different artists, all focused on environmental stewardship and land preservation themes. The art exhibit was held at the BLM ranger facility serving the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
Throughout the calendar year, open calls will be made for artists to offer proposals for creative projects. Those whose ideas are selected will earn a stipend to realize their artwork, which will then find a lasting place at the ranger station.
The initiative also serves as a proactive way to connect with local Indigenous groups, honoring the cultural and historical traditions of the region, while building stronger community bonds. Additionally, it aims to enhance the visitor’s understanding of the unique environment through the medium of visual arts and storytelling.
Every round of artistic contributions will culminate in a special unveiling event. At these occasions, the contributing artists will discuss the inspiration behind their works, mingle with the audience, and provide an opportunity for art appreciation, all before guests proceed to explore the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
About El Malpais National Conservation Area
Established back in 1987, the El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) serves to protect a diverse range of key resources associated with the Zuni-Bandera volcanic terrain. These include significant geological formations, archaeological sites, ecological systems, cultural landmarks, scenic vistas, scientific values, and wilderness characteristics. “El Malpais” translates from Spanish as “the badlands.”
Normal operating hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of I-40 Exit 89 (Quemado) on NM Highway-117.
About Public Lands Interpretive Association
Operating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is dedicated to the betterment of public lands in Arizona and New Mexico via educational programs and hands-on service.
Working closely with both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, PLIA is involved in the development and sale of informational materials, products, and maps which are sold through their online store, and at visitor reception areas and departmental shops. The organization also operates campgrounds in the Kaibab National Forest and furnishes visitor information at the Public Lands Information Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Top image: Artist Marissa Irizarry.
Images courtesy PLIA.
THIS STORY SPONSORED BY THE PUBLIC LANDS INTERPRETIVE ASSOCIATION
Posted by Ruidoso.com