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On Walkabout At: Capulin Volcano National Monument

Basic Information

  • Name: Capulin Volcano National Monument
  • Where: Capulin, New Mexico
  • Cost: $5 per vehicle
  • Hours: 08:3o AM – 5:00PM
  • More Info: NPS website

Aerial View of the Volcano

Capulin Volcano via Wikipedia

Topographic Map of the Crater Trail

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Narrative

During a trip my family and I made from Colorado Springs to Dallas, Texas we decided to break up the trip with a stop at Capulin Volcano National Monument in Northern New Mexico:

From Colorado Springs it was about a three hour drive to the 8,142 foot Capulin Volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

The volcano gets its name from the Spanish word “capulin” which means “chokecherry”  Mexican settlers that arrived in the area gave the volcano this name due to all the chokecherry bushes that grow on the volcano.  After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, New Mexico became part of the United States and Capulin decades later became a National Monument on August 9th, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson who issued a proclamation stating that the monument was to preserve “…. a striking example of recent extinct volcanoes.”:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

All visitors to the park must first stop by the visitor center and pay the $5 entry fee per vehicle or show a National Park pass to enter the National Monument:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a view looking back towards the volcano from the visitor center:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Inside the visitor center they have nice restroom facilities, a large gift shop, and small display area where you can watch a video about the volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

From the visitor center we then made the drive up the road that leads to the crater of the volcano.  In 1923 a local man named Homer Farr who owned a general store in the area became custodian of the park:

Hardware Store in Capulin, NM., 1915. Homer Farr is in the middle. National Park Service

After moving to the area in 1907 Farr became fascinated with the terrain and became a big promoter of the area.  After taking over as the custodian of Capulin he immediately began surveying to create a road to the crater of the volcano.  Using a farming plow pulled by donkeys he successfully made a 2-mile long dirt road to the crater of the volcano.  In the 1930’s the road was further widened.  Today the road is completely paved and provides quick access to the crater:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Throughout the park there are various markers that explain the history of this volcano.  The marker at the crater explains how Capulin is a cinder cone volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Capulin may have been chosen as a National Monument due to being a recently formed volcano, but the area has many other volcanoes as well.  From the parking lot there is a great view of what is called the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field (RCVF):

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a brief history of the RCVF from the National Park Service website:

This section of the Great Plains is characterized by volcanism. Capulin Volcano is just one out of many volcanoes in northeastern New Mexico. This collection of volcanoes, called the Raton-Clayton volcanic field (RCVF), is the easternmost Cenozoic—66.4 million years ago (Ma) to present—volcanic field in the United States. The RCVF covers nearly 8000 square miles, from Trinidad, Colorado to Clayton, New Mexico, and has been active during the last 9 million years. The eruption of Capulin volcano, ~ 60,000 years ago, is one of the most recent eruptions in the field. The field is presently dormant with no activity in the last 30,000 or 40,000 years. Individual volcanic centers within the field, such as Capulin Volcano, are considered extinct. [NPS website]

Looking out at these volcanoes I could see the small village of Capulin down below which was a town founded by Homer Farr as part of his efforts to promote the area:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

For those that have driven through this area all the small towns to include Capulin are nearly ghost towns, so Farr’s promotion efforts did not work out very well.  He was right though that this area is quite scenic and Capulin Volcano is great place to see it from.  From the parking lot there is a one mile long perimeter trail that allows visitors to reach the summit of the volcano and then connect on to another trail that descends into the crater. Both the perimeter trail and the crater trail are paved and easy to walk on:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a view from the trail looking down into the crater:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a view looking back towards the parking lot:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a view looking South towards other volcanoes in the RCVF:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a view looking east at the largest volcano in the area, the 8,723 foot Sierra Grande which some people have proclaimed as the largest stand alone mountain in North America:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a closer look at this impressive volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

I could see on the Eastern slopes of Sierra Grande the small village of Des Moines which like other villages in the area is nearly abandoned, but remains alive due to the area’s school being located there:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a panorama that shows Sierra Grande on the left and the RCVF on the right:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a panorama showing more of the terrain to the Northeast of Sierra Grande:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

When I wasn’t taking in views of Sierra Grande I would glance to my left and take in views of Capulin’s impressive crater as well:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a panorama view of the crater from the volcano’s rim:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is the final section of trail that leads to Capulin’s summit:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

On the summit there are some nice signs that explain the geologic history of the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

The volcanoes in the RCVF may now be considered dormant, but according to the signs scientists believe that these volcanoes could once again come back to life and further reshape the landscape.  That is fine with me if they become active again, but hopefully they wait until I am off the summit of Capulin.  I knew I had to get off the volcano soon anyway because of the rain I saw heading towards my direction:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

So I started walking back to the parking lot and enjoying the views to the West:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

As I walked down to the West I spotted a really cool ranch that was located inside one of the valleys created by lava flows:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

One of the most prominent terrain features looking to the West that I could see was the 8,000 foot Robinson Peak:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Here is a panorama photo of the view to the West:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Besides enjoying the nice views in the distance, I also enjoyed seeing things closer up on the volcano such as these yellow wildflowers:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

These wildflowers were quite ubiquitous on Capulin and added some much needed color to the otherwise spectacular scenery:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

After hiking back to the parking lot I then headed down into the caldera of the volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

It is a very short .3 mile round-trip hike down into the caldera:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Like the perimeter trail, this trail is also paved the entire way making for very easy access:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

At the end of the trail there is another informative sign explaining the inner workings of this volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

After reading the sign it was easy to imagine all the hot lava that once spewed in this caldera that had now cooled into the lava rock below my feet:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Besides lava rock something else we saw a lot of in the caldera was deer:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

In fact my family and I counted nine deer that we saw grazing within the volcano which my kids really enjoyed.  Here are a couple of panorama pictures that show the inside of Capulin Volcano:

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Picture from Capulin Volcano National Monument

Conclusion

Overall my family and I had a really nice visit to Capulin Volcano National Monument.  The park personnel were very nice, the trails were perfect for families, and the views were tremendous.  Plus my kids got to learn a little more about the science behind volcanoes.  This really was a perfect break for us during the long drive to Dallas.  I highly recommend anyone else making this drive to take a few hours and check out this wonderful National Monument.

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