In the big landscape that is New Mexico your eyes constantly sweep the horizon, looking for what is next. Miles before you get to White Sands, for example, you will see a stretch of blinding white way off in the distance. As you drive west of Carrizozo on Route 380, on the other hand, you will see what seems to be a huge black shadow cast by a cloud. As you get nearer you will see that it is the ground itself, far blacker than the surrounding valley land. You have arrived at the Valley of Fires, which is one of the youngest and most pristine lava flows in the U.S.
Between 1500 and 2000 years ago, the vents of Little Black Peak started pouring out lava, which oozed across the land until it cooled and solidified. It is thought that the lava flows lasted over a period of thirty years. Two and a half miles across at its widest point, 125 square miles in all, the flow is an amazing 165 feet deep at its thickest point. The area, also known as the Carrizozo Malpais, is alive with vegetation and wildlife, and there is a walking trail and camping area.
You can see a video of a walking tour of the area at http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=f2ff029a833cccc778fd.
For some great aerial photographs of the area, see http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/tour/landmarks/carrizozo/how_formed.html