New Mexico’s Finest refrained from pressing vagrancy charges last night, so it was sweet dreams until the sun came up. El Malpais (“Badlands”) National Monument was a short distance from my sleeping spot, and I arrived fairly early. The park sits in the midst of several ancient volcanic cones and lava flows and has an extensive network of caves created from lava tubes, the largest of which is supposedly seventeen miles long. Hiking through one of these tubes was a dicey affair as the floor of the cave was covered with boulders and difficult to navigate, and the batteries of my tiny flashlight were fading fast. Sadly, just as it was becoming dark enough that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face common sense prevailed and I turned around; a return trip tomorrow, with fresh batteries, is likely.
Most of the afternoon was spent in the east side of the park taking photos. In the midst of my Ansel Adams impersonations I ran into two guys standing on a cliff’s edge, with one guy educating his friend on everything from lava formations to tsunamis to photographic equipment. What made this conversation interesting was that the guy spoke with utter conviction, but was wrong on nearly every subject. From a lava flow’s ability to mummify people (rock and metal are toast in the face of a lava flow, but apparently organic tissue is special) to the fact that one hundred years ago all cameras took three hours to snap a photo (imagine portrait photographers: “now hold really still”) the entertainment value of this conversation made it hugely difficult not to eavesdrop. The only downside of the encounter was the fact that his poor friend will no doubt be passing along a newfound wealth of misinformation.