Friday, August 28, 2015

New Mexico Road Trip Planning

Inside Loretta Chapel in Santa Fe
I had planned to get out a few days with my wife and enjoy the New Mexico scenery. We only had 4 days for the entire trip and had to really keep our expenses low. I planned to travel to 4 different areas where we could enjoy the sites and scenery and actually spend a little time in the great outdoors. Santa Fe would be the hub. Hotel planning came last and we found a room in Santa Fe online for 3 nights for a great rate, with breakfast!
We packed lunch and snacks, our backpacks, my plan and drove. No backpacking, but plenty of cool places to visit.
Day 1 - Drive to Pueblo, CO and tour the River Walk. Continue to Trinidad and tour the Baca and Bloom houses and History Center. Drive south to Capulin Volcano National Monument. Drive to Santa Fe.
Day 2 - Drive to Roswell, NM and tour the International UFO Museum and the Arts Center. Return to Santa Fe.
Day 3 - Drive to Bandelier National Monument, visit Los Alamos having lunch with our friend Ruby, return to Santa Fe.
Day 4 - Visit Loretta Chapel, drive to Taos visiting the San Francisco De Assisi church and Kit Carsons home, drive through Cimaron Canyon State Park, returning home to Castle Rock.
Whew! That is a lot of driving! But it does get us in the great outdoors, into historic sites and gets us a needed vacation.
You have already read about Capulin Volcano, check out the rest of our Road Trip in the upcoming weeks.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Road Trip - Capulin Volcano National Monument

The Volcano Rim
Capulin Volcano National Monument sits in New Mexico's northeastern corner, about 30 miles west of Raton, NM off US 64/87 and NM 325. I found it while searching Google Maps a few years ago and was excited to visit the 800 acre park.
About 60,000 years ago, Capulin Volcano erupted, forming the cinder cone volcano we see today. This area is home to the 8000 square mile Raton-Clayton volcanic field. The cinder cone rises over 1300 feet above the plains to reach 8,182 feet elevation. Mostly made up of loose cinders, ash and other rock debris from the eruption, Capulin preserved its cone-like symmetry because the later volcanic flows came from its boca (spanish for mouth) at the cones western base. Mountains all around are capped with volcanic ash and tuft.
They say Capulin is "extinct" but I have my doubts. I believe we live in a worldwide volcanic 'pause' that may someday restart. When that day will come, who knows. Regardless, I chanced it and drove to the volcano's top and descended into its crater on a short hike.

Looking west across New Mexico from the rim
The visitor center at the bottom of the volcano is where you pay the $7 per car admission. There are displays with the site history, a film, bookstore and restrooms. Picnic tables are near the parking lot. To get to the top you must drive. No trailers are allowed. Closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years day. Open 8 AM to 4:30 PM, and until 5 PM during the summer months. After closing, you may walk or bicycle the road to the rim of the volcano.  Pick up a trail guide and hike one of the lava flow or boca trails from the visitor center to learn more about the volcano.
Local legend says that Capulin was named for the Spanish word for chokecherry, which grows throughout the park along with mountain mahogany, scrub oak and three-leaf sumac. Chokecherry pies are an awesome local treat, if you have never had one. Pinyon pine, juniper and ponderosa pine grow throughout the park along with prairie grasses and abundant wildflowers. From the volcano top you can see New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma on a clear day. The views from the parking area are nice too!

Windy photo of yours truly from inside the crater, next to the vent
We hiked down a steep but short trail to the crater. Near the bottom, the volcanic rocks look rough and gnarly. The wind was swirling down into the crater. While being really cool, it also had a strange feeling there. I pulled out my iPhone and opened the compass app. After it loaded, it showed north was actually pointing east about 50 degrees. I walked partly back from the vent, closed and re-opened the app and got the same reading. At the visitor center, the ranger confirmed my findings, saying the mass of volcanic rock would effect all compasses this way. Interesting! By the way, the views and trails along the volcano rim are awesome, and I can now say I have hiked to a volcanic vent, inside the crater. However, for those with a fear of high places, you may want someone else to drive you up the steep corkscrew road with no guardrails. Built in 1925, it will require a little nerve to safely drive to the top.

Inside the Capulin crater
To get to Capulin Volcano, from Denver go south on I-25, exiting at Raton, NM. Follow US64/87 east 28 miles to the village of Capulin, turning north on NM325 for 3 miles. The park entrance is well signed and is on the right. On NM325, watch for cattle crossings as they can be rough if you are driving too fast. There were no services in Capulin when we were there, so plan for gas and food in Raton.

Looking north from the rim

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bicycling the Cherry Creek Trail

Cherry Creek
I had not been hiking or bicycling much the past few weeks due mostly to my schedule, so instead of planting myself in front of the computer screen all day, I went for a bicycle ride along the southern end of the Cherry Creek Trail.  A map is available HERE.
I unloaded my bike at the Hidden Mesa Trailhead just north of Franktown on CO 83.  The park was quite busy over to the left with people working in the greenhouses and tending the flowers and plants around the log cabin in the parking lot.
I rode down the dirt farm path toward Cherry Creek, crossed the bridge and joined up with the Cherry Creek Trail at the half mile mark.  My hybrid bicycle navigated the dirt path just fine.
From here, I followed the trail less used, turning south to see for myself if the trail reached Castlewood Canyon State Park.  The plan with building the trail had been to connect Denver and the Cherry Creek State Park with Castlewood Canyon State Park, some 40+ miles to the south.  Many years ago, I had once tried to bicycle the Trail from my home in Castle Rock all the way to Confluence Park at the junction of Cherry Creek and the Platte River in downtown Denver.  What I found then were dead ends, long re-routes around private land all along the trail and lots of road riding throughout Douglas and Arapaho Counties.  The few miles of the trail from the Platte River Junction to Cherry Creek State Park were in place at the time and were a nice ride, finishing at the then new REI store.

Farmland along the trail
Today I followed alongside some hills I had never noticed before and passed through farmland with baled hay drying in the field and "working ranches" while bicycling above and west of the creek. The trail then took a left down a dirt road and joined another gravel path along a water storage pond, then turned right back onto the paved trail again.  Passing through an area with some trees I spooked a flock of birds from the ground who squawked and chirped loudly, like they didn't expect me at all.  I also felt no one else had been here in some time, like I was an intruder in the birds paradise.

Dead End
I soon found out why, when I came to the trails end just south of the highway 86 bridge.  The trail just ended there and didn't offer any way out, no connection to Franktown or to CO 86.  I turned around a little disappointed after riding only 2.75 miles from the trailhead.  Oh well, maybe the land owner will allow the trail access to Castlewood Canyon Road, providing some closure and connection.

Frog and Beetle
39.5 Mile Marker
I turned around after photographing a frog and beetle on the pavement, and pedaled back north, crossing Cherry Creek, passing under CO 86, crossing the creek again and following the path through the trees.  After going left onto the gravel path, I realized a person could bicycle on the gravel road to the left out to CO 86, turn left, then follow the highway about half a mile and turn right onto Castlewood Canyon Road to get to the park.  While the trail was well signed to keep users on the path, there were no signs showing how to get to the park.

Promoting Hidden Mesa
I quickly passed the farm path and continued north, climbing a small hill.  The trail junction up to Hidden Mesa was at the top of the hill and was well marked.  I know from hiking there, my bicycle tires and gearing are a bit narrow and weak for the route, so I continued north.  Turning right you descend Castle Oaks Road to cross under the bridge.  This section I had just ridden had not existed when I lived here before, so now I was now riding somewhat familiar ground.
I followed along the trail here which travels through private land and has some gates to be opened and closed.  Today all gates were open, no cattle were grazing here and the trail was smooth and fast. I bicycled past Bayou Gulch and the new connector trail to highway 83, then was routed behind a neighborhood that had just started construction when I rode there before.  At the end of the neighborhood, I left the trail to follow a gravel path east and up to another gravel farm road where I turned left and pedaled by another field and some farmhouses.  There are development signs everywhere along here, announcing this former farm will be developed into another neighborhood. While sad, it is inevitable that any wide open place like this will either become a neighborhood or an open space park.  The neighborhoods are winning.

Looking east across the old wooden bridge
I turned left again to go around the north side of the farm, this time onto another gravel path that crossed a wooden bridge.  The worn boards were rough with bent nails protruding from the railroad tie-like logs.  Cars are forbidden to cross this bridge and it may be one of the last wooden farm bridges left in the area.  On the good news side, the Cherry Creek Trail will most likely be completed through the future development, removing the farm bypass.
The paved trail continues along across more farm land, passes the side trail to the Pinery and continues to follow Cherry Creek northward.  My goal today was to ride to Stroh Ranch Road and turn around there, giving me a 20 mile ride.  I turned around at the Stroh Road bridge and rode back south, planning to take a short break at a bench I passed.  It was a beautiful day today and was nice except for the headwind I encountered on the way back home.

Turnaround Point Trail Sign
Working Ranch Trail Signage
Break spot on the return trip
View from the break spot
Back to the farm path at trails end
Cherry Creek under the Farm Path Bridge
I was tired at the end of the ride and was happy to be out of the wind.  I passed several bicyclists today, on both road and mountain bikes, and a couple people walking.  The trail was as nice as I remembered it and I hope to ride more of it again soon.
To start at the southern end of the Cherry Creek Trail, drive south from Denver on I-25, exiting at Founders Parkway, exit 184.  Go left and follow to CO 86 where you go left/east.  Drive to Franktown and turn left on CO 83 about a mile and a half to Hidden Mesa Open Space just past the historic Pikes Peak Grange.  Turn left into the parking area and start your ride here.  There is a porta-let, picnic tables and shelter here.  The parking area is open from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset.