El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments - Grants, NM

Ethnohistorian Assistant


El Malpais National Monument has a rich history of land use during the late 19th and 20th century including logging, mining, sheep herding, and cave exploration. Some of this information has been documented in official narratives, but much more information is available through personal interviews and documents. In 2018, the National Park Service is planning to conduct an ethnographic study to capture this information before it is lost to time. This study will be used to not only increase our historical archive but also to help with calibrating scientific data in resource management issues by furthering our understanding of changes in vegetation, wildlife, wetlands, etc.

In this role, the intern will interview local residents, historical society staff, and regional cave exploration groups. Interviews will be recorded when allowed and with proper releases. Additionally, the intern will learn methods for conducting interviews, documentation, and historical records research (public and private), while developing skills in writing a professional ethnohistorical inventory report. Over the course of the summer, the intern will also learn about the monument’s cultural natural resources and historical uses of the area, and  connect ethnohistorical information to land use and potential changes in the environmental conditions resulting from anthropogenic activities


  • Coursework or a combination of coursework and experience should largely be within natural anthropology, history, resource management, ecology, or geography.
  • An interest in natural resource management, and/or public education is essential.
  • Some work will be done in wilderness areas and inside lava tubes and requires the ability to hike over rough terrain (up to 3 miles in a day) and comfort in confined or exposed areas (lava tubes).

About the work environment:

  • The Monuments’ headquarters and the natural resource management office are located within the city of Grants, New Mexico.
  • The office is a friendly, comfortable setting with a staff of around 20.
  • Some work may be in the field. The field environment can be physically taxing and requires the ability to work and hike over extremely rugged terrain and in varying weather conditions while carrying 5-25 pounds of supplies and gear at an elevation between 7000-8000'.
  • Fieldwork will involve navigating rough backcountry roads requiring high clearance and occasionally 4WD, hiking on lava flows in remote wilderness, locating cave sites with GPS units, and working in lava tube caves, which require navigating by artificial light, working in temperatures in the low 40s, and non-technical climbing.
  • The intern does not need a license or vehicle to do the work of the internship (housing is located on site). However, the park is not located on public transportation routes and is several miles from any public services. It is required that the intern have a means of personal transportation. 

About Malpais National Monument:

For centuries people have lived around and sometimes in the lava country. Native civilizations crossed the lava flows with trail cairns and related to the landscape with stories and ceremony. Spanish empire builders detoured around it and gave it the name used today. Homesteaders settled along its edges and tried to make the desert bloom. The stories of all these people are preserved in the trail cairns, petroglyphs, wall remnants, and other fragments that remain in the backcountry.

About El Morro National Monument:

The Puebloans, ingenious farmers of the high desert, were master builders. Their earliest structures, half-buried pithouses, evolved into above-ground pueblos by 1000 CE. Soon the Puebloans were building many of their villages on mesa tops, perhaps with defense in mind or perhaps simply to be high above the plain.

Atsinna Pueblo, the largest of the pueblos atop El Morro, dates from about 1275. The pueblo was about 200 by 300 feet, and it housed between 1,000 and 1,500 people. Multiple stories of interconnected rooms - 875 have been counted -- surrounded an open courtyard. Square and circular kivas - underground chambers that recall the pithouse era - were spaces for informal gatherings as well as sacred ceremonies.