The Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA), a nonprofit organization, is collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rio Puerco Field Office to beautify El Malpais National Conservation Area via the El Malpais Community Arts Initiative. On its official website, the BLM states that 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 striking setting of volcanic fields and sandstone formations has been a magnet for visitors over the ages. Now, when these visitors begin their exploration at the newly revamped El Malpais BLM Ranger Station, they’ll encounter art installations like sculptures and wall paintings crafted by local artists, encapsulating the “history, culture, art, and landscape of El Malpais.” This information center sits 9 miles to the south on Highway 117, near Grants, New Mexico.
The El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) envelops the Zuni-Bandera volcanic region, featuring awe-inspiring sandstone escarpments, gorges, La Ventana Natural Arch, and additional attractions like the Chain of Craters Back Country Byway and Joe Skeen Campground, which offers 10 free, unreserved camping spots. Other notable sites within the NCA include the Narrows Picnic Area as well as the Cebolla and West Malpais Wilderness Zones. The area also provides an entry point to the Continental Divide Trail. Activities such as hiking, camping, picnics, and ecological exploration are available in this diverse terrain.
This region was frequented long before the arrival of Spanish colonizers. Indigenous communities have been utilizing the area’s flora, fauna, and minerals for more than 10,000 years. According to the BLM website, “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.”
The Public Lands Interpretive Association is a nonprofit dedicated to enlightening and motivating visitors to America’s public territories.
Call for Artists
Local sculptors recently had the chance to propose designs for a prominent sculpture destined for the ranger station’s parking area, with Acoma artist Walt Torres ultimately selected for the project. Work on the sculpture is presently underway at the Ranger Station itself.
PLIA regularly offers calls for submissions of work from artists who live in the surrounding areas of El Malpais National Conservation Area. Art should highlight the beauty of El Malpais and its surrounding area. Artists can check for upcoming submission deadlines here.
Periodic announcements are made to invite artists to put forth proposals for fresh artistic contributions. Those with accepted submissions will earn a stipend for their efforts, and the completed works will find a permanent home at the ranger station.
This initiative serves as an innovative approach for engaging with nearby Indigenous communities, acknowledging the region’s rich cultural history, and forging stronger ties with local inhabitants. It also augments the visitor experience, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the special landscape through the lens of art and visual narratives.
Each artist rotation will feature an unveiling event where attendees can hear the artists discuss their pieces, meet them personally, and appreciate the art before exploring the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
About El Malpais National Conservation Area
Inaugurated in 1987, the El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) was created to safeguard an array of valuable resources around the Zuni-Bandera volcanic area, ranging from geological and archaeological assets to ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness features. The term “El Malpais” is Spanish for “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.
The Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to promoting public lands in Arizona and New Mexico via educational initiatives and service projects.
PLIA collaborates with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to create and market educational literature, goods, and cartographic resources at visitor hubs and administrative outlets. It also manages camping sites within the Kaibab National Forest and dispenses visitor details at the Public Lands Information Center situated in Santa Fe, New Mexico.