"and there’s men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoof-prints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod melted rock? I’d not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could see well in the long ago how it was little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that fiery vomit to salvage back those souls"
The Damned being cast into Hell (c. 1610), by Franz Francken II
Public DomainThe Damned being cast into Hell (c. 1610), by Franz Francken II - Credit: Salzburg Residenzgalerie

The infernal appearance of the malpais has given rise to a number of myths and superstitions. The English explorer George Frederick Ruxton, travelling through the area in the mid-19th century, mentions some of these beliefs in his Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. Describing the 'Mal Pais' as an ‘evil land’, he writes:


The Mexicans, as they passed this spot, crossed themselves reverently, and muttered an Ave Maria; for in the lonely regions of the Mal Pais, the superstitious Indian believes that demons and gnomes, and spirits of evil purposes have their dwelling-places, whence they not unfrequently pounce upon the solitary traveller, and bear him into the cavernous bowels of the earth; the arched roof of the prison-house resounding to the tread of their horses as they pass the dreaded spot, muttering rapidly their prayers, and amulets and charms to keep off the treacherous bogles who invisibly beset the path.


The cloven hoof has traditionally been associated with the Devil and his minions.