Capulin Volcano National Monument

Location: 20 miles southeast of Raton, New Mexico
Access: From Raton, drive 20 miles southeast and watch for the signed road on the east side of the road. Turn east on this road and head 3 miles east, then turn north on the signed road to the monument. 
Trail: We didnt have time for all the trails, but we hiked the Crater Rim Loop Trail (1 mile, 300 feet gain) and the Crater Vent Trail (0.2 miles one-way, 105 feet loss). Both are paved, steep and very scenic.
Fees: $5/person/day
Weather: National Weather Service forecast


November 18, 2009

While driving back from Fort Worth we decided to take quick stop at Capulin Volcano National Monument and stretch our legs. After a brief stop at the obligatory visitor center, I drove up the steep road that winds around the mountain counterclockwise towards the top of the extinct volcanic cone. The road sported such steep drop-offs that Andra literally leaned in towards the center of the car and closed her eyes while I laughed. It was a steep dropoff, and I can appreciate the security of holding the steering wheel yourself in such a situation. 

At the top, we parked in a paved parking lot and enjoyed the views of the Raton-Clayton volcanic plain to the northwest, rolling on in dun-colored ripples towards the snow-shrouded Sangre de Christo Mountains in Colorado. The sun was shining warmly in the late afternoon, and though it was only in the 50s, the lack of wind and abundant sunshine made it feel very warm. We hopped on the Crater Rim Trail and followed the paved steepness counterclockwise. Short oaks with brown leaves mingled with green pinon pines and tawny grass. On the north faces, snow clung to the ground among the plants and lichen-covered volcanic boulders. The views from the trail were fantastic, providing an aerial vantage of the plains below, and I stopped frequently for photographs. Andra walked steadily on, and I would huff and puff up the trail to catch up after stopping. 

On the east side of the cone, halfway around, a sign pointed out areas of interest on the horizon and I was tickled to see points in Oklahoma were visible. We continued on around and completed the loop back at the parking lot. Andra decided to sit on the rock wall along the parking lot while I dropped down the trail to the center of the cone, which is only 1200 feet of sidewalk and 100 feet elevation loss. The shadows were deeper inside the cone, and snow amongst the oaks was much thicker.  Barren chokecherry (Capulin in Spanish, the namesake of the volcano) grew abundantly among the oaks. At the terminus of the sidewalk in the middle of the cone, I turned around and chugged back up to the parking lot. 

Two old cowboys were at their car, and one of them struck up a conversation by asking us if we were from Wyoming, apparently seeing our license plates. 

I cowboyed all over that country, he said, waving his arm vaguely to the north. He proceeded to tell us about the TO Ranch, and how he met his friend from Virginia who was with him. He was a character. We hopped in the car and rolled down the road to the visitor center, the highway, and on to Colorado. 
 

Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
The inside flank of the volcanic cone
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Inside the volcano cone
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Capulin Volcano from a distance
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
The Clayton-Raton volcanic field
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
The Crater Rim
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
 Oaks and chokecherry line the Crater Rim Trail
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Steep trail up to the top of the volcanic cone
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Sierra Grande Volcano, the largest 
in the area, from Capulin Volcano
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Andra and I at an overlook along the Crater Rim Trail
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
 
Capulin Volcano National Monument - Crater Rim Trail
Looking north from the Crater Rim Trail

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