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Strange Disappearances and Anomalous Phenomena in El Malpais Park

El Malpais National Park is located in New Mexico, USA, and is famous for its picturesque formations of long-solidified lava and volcanic slag. Its name translates from Spanish as “barren lands,” and the local landscape indeed looks post-apocalyptic and quite grim.

The volcanic fields are dotted with caves, lava tubes, jagged rocks, and piles of stones of all shapes, making the park very popular among spelunkers and extreme tourists.

Native Americans consider this place sacred, full of spirits and magic. People generally avoided going there unnecessarily. Indeed, something strange does happen here, as people regularly disappear under suspicious circumstances. Some are never found, while the remains of others are discovered, often with the cause of death undetermined.

It’s possible that they fall into crevices or get lost in the countless unexplored cave passages, but some people disappear in areas with well-trodden, reliable paths where they would inevitably be found during search efforts.

On June 20, 2002, 46-year-old James Chatman and his 20-year-old daughter Crystal came to El Malpais for a day to walk the lava fields. They were last seen in the evening heading towards a place called Big Pipe—a cluster of lava tunnels approximately 17 miles long.

Big Pipe is considered a relatively safe place for walks, with well-trodden paths that many people visit without issue.

However, James and Crystal did not return. The next morning, when no one had seen them and their car was still in the parking lot, a search began involving over 250 people, planes, and search dogs. No trace of them was found.

Eight years later, a small pile of dried human bones was discovered in the park along with torn clothing and credit cards. These remains were identified as James Chatman and his daughter.

But the bones only raised more questions. Firstly, the remains were found five miles from Big Pipe in very rugged terrain, and no one could understand how they ended up there. Why would James and Crystal venture so far from the tourist trail and climb impassable rocks?

Secondly, James and Crystal had no gear for hiking in the mountains—no special boots or climbing equipment. Yet, their remains were found at quite a high elevation.

Thirdly, experts carefully examined the remains but could not determine the cause of death. There were no signs of an animal attack, gunshot wounds, or cuts from sharp weapons.

One might speculate that James and Crystal left the tunnels for some reason and got lost, then tried to climb a large rock to see where they were. But what happened to them next? Why didn’t they come down, and why did they die there?

The disappearance and death of James and Crystal were very strange, but at least they were found. Since 2002, five more people have gone missing in El Malpais Park—disappearing without a trace.

Perhaps the key to these disappearances lies in the accounts of tourists who have observed various anomalous phenomena in the park.

In particular, they reported unexplained malfunctions of electrical equipment, compass failures, a feeling of being watched, and unexplained bouts of dizziness and disorientation. Some suddenly felt so ill that they became nauseous.

There were also reports of mysterious floating lights, disembodied voices, and even sounds of music coming from nowhere.

Many tourists reported feeling disoriented or confused for no apparent reason, causing them to walk in circles and get lost even close to the tourist trail.

Some recounted feeling something strange on the trail, then suddenly realizing several hours had passed when it seemed like only ten minutes at most.

There were also tourists who went missing for several hours and, when found, recounted experiencing something eerie and inexplicable. One such tourist described his experience in detail:

“I almost went missing when we went into a cave with friends. We split up, and then I heard music that made me feel an overwhelming urge to go towards it.

There was a tiny passage I somehow managed to squeeze through like a worm, even though I’m not slim at all. I listened to this music for almost an hour before it stopped. It was really creepy, but it was the best music ever! I think it was flutes or pipes.

I followed these sounds like a madman and seemed unable to control myself. I literally crawled 50 feet through a passage narrower than a coffin. There was no light because there wasn’t enough space to use it.

It was so tight I couldn’t use my hands or raise them above my head, and I had to slowly pull myself back, moving with my heels.

I think a few things snapped me out of that trance. One was that my chest became too compressed to breathe easily. Secondly, I reached a turn in the narrow tunnel where it bent 90° upwards, and I couldn’t figure out how to bend my body to move further.

At the top of the tunnel, I could see a room with a light on, and I could hear the music faintly coming from there.

If I had gotten stuck there forever, I don’t think my friends could have heard my screams. When I came back (it took me 10-15 minutes to squeeze back through those 50 feet), my friends were there, already looking for me and confused about where I had gone. For them, when I emerged from that tiny tunnel, I essentially appeared out of nowhere.

I didn’t tell them what happened because I didn’t want to scare them, and we still had a few hours to get back to our camp. I just said I explored a side tunnel and left it at that.

My friends and I have had other VERY creepy experiences here in El Malpais Park. It’s a very dangerous area. There’s so much magnetism here, which makes batteries, electronics, and compasses unreliable. Even planes are prohibited from flying over El Malpais.”

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