When we got out of the car and walked over to the trailhead marker for today’s hike, I was surprised to see the name Acoma-Zuni. I had always referred to this trail as the Zuni-Acoma Trail. It’s a 7.5 one-way hike, connecting Highway 117 and Highway 53 across the lava flows at El Malpais National Monument. In our travels on the two highways for various other destinations we have passed the trailheads many times. But we’ve never done the hike, knowing we wouldn’t be able to do all 7.5 miles and then turn around and hike back to the car. Besides, how interesting could it be to trek across that rough black rock surface for the entire hike. As it turned out, just hiking in for 3 miles and then turning around to come back was quite interesting, indeed.
It was a last minute decision to do the hike and when Lee suggested it I hesitated, saying that I would be more comfortable if we had a GPS track to follow. I know how easy it is to lose your way in that kind of terrain, especially when rock cairns are the only trail markers. But we were out of cell coverage so I couldn’t download a track. We would be able to track it as we went along, though, so if we did lose the trail we would be able to find our way back out.
Once the trail left the sandy area and headed up into the lava rock we soon realized that we didn’t need to worry about losing the trail. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trail with so many cairns. Just when you were wondering which was the best way to navigate around one of the big cracks or to go through one of the collapsed lava tubes there would be a cairn to show you the way.
As I learned on the website for the National Monument this trail has been around for centuries, used by native people to connect the two pueblo lands on either side of the Malpais. A lot of hands and backbreaking work has probably gone into making all the piles of rock that guided our way. That bit of history on the website also provided an explanation for my confusion over the name of the trail. When you start from Highway 117 it is the Acoma-Zuni Trail because the Acoma pueblo is on that side of the Malpais. You will be crossing over to the Zuni side. If you start from Highway 53 it is connecting Zuni to Acoma, hence the Zuni-Acoma Trail. So I suppose our hike today would most accurately be called the Acoma-Acoma Trail. Zuni will have to wait for another day.