Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano are located on the North American Continental Divide, but the site is not part of a national or state park. The site has been owned and operated as a tourist attraction by the David Candelaria family for almost 80 years. Join us as we explore this enchanting land of fire and ice.
Where is it?
Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano are located approximately 26 miles south of Grants, New Mexico off of Highway 53. The physical address is 12000 Ice Caves Road, Grants, New Mexico.
Features of the site include:
- Trading Post with gift shop, snacks, drinks, and historical artifacts
- Picnic area
- Tent camping area – fee required
- Overnight RV parking allowed with no services – fee required
- Hiking trails to the ice cave and the volcano
- Site is open from March through October
- Admission fee required
Access the website here.
Visiting Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano
Ice Caves Trading Post, located next to the parking lot, is the first stop in order to pay admission fees and borrow a trail guide. While there, visitors can view historic photos as well as some of the ancient artifacts that have been found on the site. The trading post also sells wonderful pottery, rugs, and jewelry crafted by local tribal members.
When exiting the trading post, a right-hand turn will take visitors to the trail to the ice cave, and a left will take them to the trail to the volcano. Excited about a hike we hit the level trail, which is roughly a half mile out and back, to see our first ice cave.
Ice Cave Trail
Ice Cave Trail features the ruins of an ancient pueblo where artifacts like the ones shown above were found. Visitors will also be able to see parts of the Bandera lava tube. Lava tubes form where the surface lava hardens but molten lava still continues to flow underneath. The Bandera lava tube is 17.5 miles long, and some believe it is the longest one in North America. Much of the tube has now collapsed, but a few caves remain. Ice Cave is one of them.
Amid a lot of lava, visitors to Ice Cave will see beautiful mosses and lichens. The alpine moss that grows near the cave’s entrance is an unusual find so far south.
A stairway with 72 steps leads down to a small viewing platform at the cave’s entrance. Visitors cannot enter the cave which keeps a temperature that never rises above 31 degrees (F). As water seeps into the cave the floor of ice thickens, though thickening depends on rain and snowfall. Ice has been forming in the cave for at least 3,400 years.
Incredibly, the ice does not seem to be affected by climate change and is estimated to be 18-20 feet thick today. A type of algae causes the green tint.
Everyone from ancient Indians to the saloon owner, Mr. Mirabal, who was David Candelaria’s father-in-law, harvested ice from the cave. Fortunately, ice harvesting ceased in 1946 when Candelaria turned the site into a tourist attraction.
Bandera Volcano Trail
After returning from the ice cave, we took off from the trading post to hike to the crater of the volcano. The one mile out and back trail was fairly easy with a 150-200-foot elevation gain and gorgeous views.
Ever heard of a tree hole? We hadn’t until we came across one on this trail. A tree hole is formed when molten lava surrounds a tree, then the tree burns due to the extreme heat of the lava. When the lava eventually cools, a hole is left where the tree once stood.
Bandera, which is a cinder cone, is the largest of 29 volcanoes in the west central area of New Mexico, usually known as the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field but also sometimes known as the Malpais (Mal-pie-EEs) volcanic field. Neighboring volcanoes have interesting names, such as Rendija (Crack), Lost Woman, Americana, and Comadre (Godmother), just to name a few. Bandera means flag in Spanish.
Bandera erupted about 10,000 years ago, creating a 23-mile-long lava flow. The eruption blew out the side of Bandera resulting in a crater that is approximately 1,400 wide and 800 feet deep.
Erosion from above is causing rock and cinders to fill the bottom of the crater. In an effort to keep this from happening faster than it should, visitors cannot venture past the viewing platform which sits about 130 feet below the rim. Bandera Volcano’s elevation is 8,367 feet at the rim.
A great interactive map showing the area’s volcanoes can be found here.
We highly recommend a stop at Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano for those traveling in New Mexico. The site is located about half-way between two national monuments, El Malpais and El Morro, and is an easy drive from I-40. Combining all three sites makes for a perfect one or two-day road trip with accommodations in the cities of Grants or Gallup.
Thank you so much for coming along on our fire and ice adventure! Our parting shot is from Bandera Volcano Trail and is a peek through the trees at a couple of the other neighboring volcanoes.
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Happy, safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our written content and photos are copyrighted and may not be published without our permission.