Ice Cave and Bandera Volcana in New Mexico

Today we decided to go do a little site seeing. We’re stopped at the KOA in Grants, New Mexico. I have noticed the signs advertising the Ice Cave every time we go through here (twice a year now for 4.5 years) and have always wanted to go see it.

Brrrr! It's cold here!

It was cold out, about 32 degrees, and the wind was blowing, but not as much as yesterday. It was also threatening to snow. We decided to go anyway and I am glad we did.

On the way

By the time we ate breakfast and got on the road, the sky looked a little better. To get to Ice Cave, take New Mexico Hwy 53 south from I-40 in Grants. It’s a 28 mile drive but there is really nice scenery on the way there.

The road into Ice Cave

We didn’t have our RV in tow, but the road into Ice Cave is a pretty good gravel road. It is a little bumpy but no ruts and it is not steep. The parking lot at the end would accommodate a large RV.

General Store

The General Store is the starting point for self guided walking tours of both the Bandera Volcano and the Ice Cave. The fees are $10 per adult and $5 per child. They also offer a senior discount but you have to be 65 to get that discount. They give you a brochure with a numbered guide that corresponds to numbered markers on the trails.

The General Store was built in the 1930’s along with a saloon and a dance hall. At that time, the Zuni Mountain Railroad was in operation and the logging industry was in full swing. They kep their beer cold using ice from the Ice Cave. There are some really nice ancient artifacts on display, most of which were found in the lava, dating back 800 to 1200 years.

Lava Flow

This is a field of lava composed of jagged, broken lava produced when the surface of the flow hardens when the underlying lava is still moving. Lava from this volcano can also be seen along the side of I-40, thirty miles away.

Twisted gnarly trees

The trees growing in the lava bed are not able to establish a good root system so they are twisted and gnarly. They also absorb lots iron from this lava, so they are prone to be struck by lightening.

On the trail

The trail to the Bandera Volcano Crater is a half mile on a 5% grade. It is paved with lava cinders, so it is sort of hard to walk on. However, Fabgrandpa and I both made it to the end. We were huffing and puffing, but we made it. (Remember, this is about 8,000 feet elevation and we spent the winter in Georgia at about 250 feet.)There are lots of benches along the way to sit down and rest. Be sure to take a bottle of water for each person.My camera battery died before we got to the end of the trail, so I don’t have a picture of the crater, but I promise you, I did go all the way out there! Lesson learned: Take extra batteries! Oh, and did I tell you it was cold? and the wind was blowing? and it was spitting snow?

Along the trail to the Ice Cave

After a short rest in the General Store (and purchasing some batteries for the camera) we took the short hike to the Ice Cave. Along the way to the cave you’ll see a smaller cave that was once used as a natural “refrigerator” for the people who owned the land; sinkholes created by collapsed lava tubes; and some Anazazi Indian ruins.



There are about 70 steps down to the Ice Cave. It is broken up with a couple of landings, again, with benches so you can rest a bit. Once we got down there, it was awesome! The temperature in the cave never gets above 31 degrees F, so as rain water and snow melt seep in, it freezes. The ice floor is approximately 20 feet thick, with the deepest ice dating back 3,400 years! The green tint is caused by Arctic algae. Ancient Indians and early settlers mined the ice, but that was stopped in 1946.

Ice Cave

That is solid ice on the floor of the cave. I couldn’t tell if it was colder than the outside air because, well, it was cold today.

Ice Cave with frozen waterfall

The greens and oranges you see on the lava are lichen and Alpine moss, which is very rare this far south.

Geode or Ice?

We couldn’t tell if this was a geode or ice? What do you think? For more information on Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano, click here.

Trees growing in lava

By the time we were walking back to the General Store, the dark storm clouds had drifted away and blue sky was showing. These trees were growing atop a lava ridge.

On the way home we had a fabulous view of Mt. Taylor, 11,301 feet, north of Grants.

Mt. Taylor


About Karen

Karen Eidson is telling the world way too much about her, whether they want to know it or not. She writes about her life of living full time in an RV, eating a gluten free diet, things she does for fun, and things that are important to her. She makes you look at photos of her grandchildren, talk about her husband's survival of oral cancer, and shows you things she has made. You know you want to look.


  1. A fun tour. I’ve seen lava/ice caves in Washington, but no algae.

  2. These are some very cool pictures! I can’t wait until we can get on the road and start seeing awesome sites like this!!!

  3. It’s beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

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