Capulin Volcano National Monument ~ Visitors Center
Touring the volcanoes and calderas of the west is a popular thing to do, simply because so many people find the topic matter to be fascinating, yet quite scary at the same time. Powerful volcanoes can be beautiful to see, but they can also be the cause of major disasters and mass extinctions. The feelings that a visitor experiences when approaching a big volcano can cause mixed emotions, depending on whether the volcano is considered to be dead or alive. Fortunately, most of the volcanoes in the west are dormant or extinct, but there are still a few live ones out there that could go off any time, like the volcanoes along the tectonic plate overlap region of the northwest Pacific Coast. The gigantic Yellowstone Caldera is the one that gets the most attention these days and rightly so, because the last time this mega volcano erupted it almost destroyed all life on earth. It is characteristics like these that makes touring the volcanoes of the west an adventurous thing to do and New Mexico has a unique volcanic field just for you!
The Capulin Volcano National Monument is located about 30 miles east of Raton, New Mexico on on a shared stretch of road that is called Highway 64 or Highway 87. Historic Raton is a good choice for a base camp and the best camping option can be found in the neighboring Sugarite State Park. There is no camping at the Capulin Volcano, but there is an RV park across the highway.
There are a lot of rules to follow when visiting the Capulin Volcano National Monument, so it is best to take a look at the National Park website before making plans. The number one thing to keep in mind is that this National Monument is one of a few in New Mexico that only accepts credit cards or bank cards for the entrance fee. A few more details to be aware of include the limited visiting hours and vehicle limitations. At this time, the National Monument closes late in the afternoon, so it is best to arrive early in the day. Bicycles are not allowed on the volcano cone road and extra long vehicles cannot do the sharp turns, so this means that those who tow trailers or ride bikes may have to do some serious hiking to get to the top. All of the restrictions can be found at the park website and there are plenty of them, so be sure to take a look.
The visitors center is where the entrance fees can be paid and this is the best place to start a Capulin Volcano adventure. The visitors center also acts as a mini museum that provides a wealth of information about the history of the Capulin Volcano and the surrounding Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. Maps of the hiking trails and brochures that describe the local flora and fauna are usually offered too, so a hike up to the top of this volcano can be a good learning experience.
From a distance the Capulin Volcano is as perfectly defined as it gets! This is one beautiful looking volcano to see when driving down the road. The funny thing is that the Capulin Volcano attracts so much attention, that it is easy to overlook the other volcanoes and plume mounds that are nearby. It is not till after a visitor starts driving on the spiraling narrow road up the side of Capulin Volcano that the rest of the volcanic field really comes into view plain as day. Once it does, it is an amazing sight to see!
The Capulin Volcano last erupted over 50,000 years ago, yet the hands of time have been kind to this monument, because the long term erosion has barely had an effect. The symmetric lines of this volcano are perfect and even the cone is positioned nearly dead center. The central crater did have a blowout on one side, so one side of the rim is lower than the other. The low point of the rim is where the Volcano Road ends and the Rim Hiking Trail begins. Details about the Capulin Volcano Rim Trail will be featured in an upcoming article.
The Capulin Volcano certainly is a majestic sight to see in the seemingly endless western end of the grassy Great Plains! The views of the volcanic field from the top of the rim do stretch out to the horizon and the entire Rim Trail only takes about an hour to do. There are picnic areas near the visitors center and plenty of park benches under shade trees along the trail, so this destination is a great place to relax while taking in the views. The Capulin Volcano National Monument may be only open from mid morning till late afternoon each day, but this the makings for a perfect day trip destination! The Capulin Volcano is a must to experience, so be sure to check it out when touring northeastern New Mexico!