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Valley of Fires Recreation Area in New Mexico, not to be confused with the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, is known largely as home to one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States. More than that, though, this area is a sign of how resilient Mother Earth truly can be.
Located immediately adjacent to the Malpais Lava Flow, the Valley is home to much more than ancient molten rock. It’s here that nature has blossomed back to life in the New Mexico Valley desert, bringing forth a unique experience for outdoorsy folks. If you’re in search of a place unlike any you’ve seen, you’ll want to head towards the Valley of Fires.
Four miles west of Carrizozo and about 90 minutes from Roswell, the Valley isn’t totally in the middle of nowhere. Valley of Fires Recreation Area can sustain RV and tent camping as well as day use for visitors who want to check it out for a short while.
- Valley of Fires Hiking Trails and Location Details
- Natural History of Valley of Fires
- Wildlife and Native Plants
- Best Time to Visit Valley of Fires Recreation Area
- Safety for First-Time Visitors
- Packing List for Valley of Fires
- Things To Do Near The Valley Of Fires
- What caused the Valley of Fires in New Mexico?
- What is the nearest town to the Valley of Fires?
- What is unique about the landscape of New Mexico’s Valley of Fires?
Valley of Fires Hiking Trails and Location Details
Address: 6158 US-380, Carrizozo, NM 88301
Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Valley of Fires is home to miles and miles of nature trails for visitors to enjoy. The most popular trail is the 3/4 mile-long Malpais Nature Trail, which brings you out onto the flows themselves. It is also paved and accessible.
Camping in the desert is always an experience. Sites here are complete with picnic shelters, a visitor center, a gift shop, and grilling facilities. You’ve got the makings of an excellent visit to this incredible ecosystem built upon lava flows.
If you aren’t planning on camping at Valley of Fires, there are a lot of options available on VRBO. You could stay at one of the few motels in Carrizozo, but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to stay somewhere like Ashley’s TreeHouse or the Freya Geo Dome Suite? Both are located at El Mistico Ranch, just a short drive away, offering more class and independence than any motel!
See Related: Best Things to Do in New Mexico & Places to Visit
Natural History of Valley of Fires
We’ve already mentioned that the Valley of Fires is home to one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States. That came about roughly 5,000 years ago.
Little Black Peak erupted, and its lava flowed dozens of miles into the Tularosa Basin. Once the molten lava cooled, it left behind flows spanning 125 square miles that are four to six miles wide, varying along the way.
Around the Valley of Fires Recreation Area, you’ll find lava caves, collapsed gas bubbles, and pressure ridges formed because of the resulting lava flow thousands of years ago. Lava rocks surround you throughout this area, weaving a tale of historic fire that brought new life. This is far from some barren rock environment.
Wildlife and Native Plants
Throughout the Valley of Fires, you’ll uncover a lot of fascinating flora and fauna. From bushes typical in this desert environment to cacti and trees to mule deer and barberry sheep roaming about. You may even get lucky and see some Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owls overhead.
Because the Bureau of Land Management maintains this area, you can always inquire more about the local wildlife and plantlife at the Visitor Center. Just remember to keep an eye out while you’re wandering the nature trail for any unexpected greetings from the locals!
See Related: Things to Do in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Best Time to Visit Valley of Fires Recreation Area
In general, the high season for tourism in New Mexico runs from May through September. So while the weather will be best during that period, everything will also be more expensive and more crowded.
If you’re hoping to save money and not bump into people along the Malpais Nature Trail, it’s worth visiting in the off season. The best time to visit is in early spring (March or April) or late fall (October or November).
There really isn’t a rainy season in this area of New Mexico, though July statistically has the most days with rain. If you decide to visit during the busy season, your daily high temperatures will range from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.
If you take advantage of the off-season, you can cool down a little. In early spring or late fall, high temps linger in the mid-60s to mid-70s.
See Related: Best Things to Do in the Mojave Desert
Safety for First-Time Visitors
Although the Valley of Fires Recreation Area is a pretty low-key destination, you have to remember that you’ll be in the Chihuahuan Desert. You’re only a few miles west of a local town, but planning ahead before journeying into the desert is the best way to keep yourself safe. If you’ve never gone to a desert before, here are some key tips to prevent injury while exploring:
- Try to avoid the worst of the heat by hiking before 10 am or after 4 pm
- Watch where you step; there are venomous snakes in this desert region
- Consider wearing gaiters to protect yourself from snake encounters
- Stay hydrated and pay attention to UV protection options
- Don’t underestimate the weather – very hot days and very cold nights can be hard on anyone
See Related: New Mexico vs Colorado: Which Should You Visit?
Packing List for Valley of Fires
Newbies to the lava flow or not, it’s vital to know how to pack for hot climates long before you get to the desert. While we already mentioned some safety packing tips above, now we can go over the clothing or other items you’ll want to bring along.
- A pair of convertible pants, because they offer UV protection and deserts get cold after sundown
- A face buff to protect your face/head from UV in addition to any buggy pests you may encounter
- UV-protecting, quick-drying shirts
- Moisture-wicking, roll-up pants as an alternative to convertible ones
- Rollable, portable raincoat for temperature or weather changes
- A hydration day pack to keep you drinking water
- Sturdy hiking shoes to keep you safe on the lava flow
- Garmin InReach to keep you connected, as you may not always have cell service
- UV-protective hat
- Don’t forget the sunscreen and reapply every two hours
- Take a reusable water bottle and electrolyte powder (I swear by Salud, mmm!) to stay hydrated
- A pocket mirror in case you get lost and need to signal for help
- A small first-aid kit
- Any kiddy essentials if you’re bringing the little ones
Make your list with the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico in mind. However, you are only a few miles west of Carrizozo if you forget anything.
See Related: How to Pack For a Camping Trip
Things To Do Near The Valley Of Fires
While the Malpais Nature Trail might keep you occupied for a while, you’re going to want to venture elsewhere at some point. When you do, there is a plethora of adventure awaiting you in the New Mexico Desert.
- White Sands Missile Range: Yes, where Oppenheimer tested the first atomic bomb. Members of the public can visit the museum at the missile range; however, you have to apply for a base pass credential beforehand.
- Carrizozo: Also known as Zozo, this town just outside of the Valley is home to less than 1,000. Yet its strong heritage as a frontier town, links to Billy the Kid, and Western flair make it a great place to stop.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Red River, New Mexico
What caused the Valley of Fires in New Mexico?
When Little Black Peak erupted around 5,000 years ago, it formed dozens of miles of lava flows. They filled the valley and eventually cooled, creating an almost Martian-like aesthetic which is now known as the Valley of Fires.
What is the nearest town to the Valley of Fires?
Carrizozo is the closest town to the Valley. It is a small town with less than 1,000 residents that shrunk like many other frontier towns did after the automobile overtook the railroad in popularity.
What is unique about the landscape of New Mexico’s Valley of Fires?
Although Valley of Fires appears like a barren wasteland, it’s truly far from it. Covered in 5,000-year-old lava flows, this area’s landscape seems otherworldly. Black lava rock smatters the environment around the Valley while myriad plants and animals make their home here.
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local” and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.