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

No comments:

Post a Comment