Sunday, February 23, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Capulin Volcano National Monument

Oct 19 Still in Raton tonight.

I went over to Capulin Volcano NM this morning. This national park encompasses the entire volcano and, in addition to the pretty decent interpretive center, they’ve got three well marked trails: one around the rim, one on the lava flow to the south and the third is in an area called the Boca where multiple flows occurred over many years; as well as a more primitive trail/bushwhack encircling the base of the volcano. I saw a number of mule deer here as well as loads of turkeys along the roads.

The road to the rim looks so civilized in
this overhead view. It's not!
The rim trail is exactly what it sounds like. Circling the crater at about 8000 feet, this trail is actually paved but not exactly easy what with the elevation changes. Plus the rim is not exactly wide in a lot of places and it’s a long ways down! There are some interpretive signs along the way and, of course, fantastic views of pretty much the whole northeast corner of New Mexico as well as bits of Colorado and Oklahoma. In fact while up there my cell phone picked up a tower from somewhere far enough to the east to switch it back to the central time zone. Before I figured that out I couldn’t understand how it got so late so fast!

I met a Canadian couple up there at the rim that were driving a small Class C. Apparently they had tried to buy a Sportsmobile but were told it wasn’t certified for sale in Canada. That seemed surprising to me but who knows. They had been on the road for 5 months and were just about to make a sprint for Toronto and home so were playing hooky up there on the volcano for one last hike and would be Walmart-ing it that night when they finally did stop.

The drive up to the rim is a bit of an adventure. The road spirals around the volcano in a steady climb and most of the trip up is not protected by a guard rail. From a distance the sides of the volcano don’t look too bad, but from the road they look pretty much straight down! On the way up you are on the outside of the narrow road (So narrow hikers and bikers are not allowed on the road after the gates open to vehicle traffic.) and constantly looking out the windshield at nothing since the road bends to the left the whole way up. It kind of makes your toes tingle! The trip down is much easier as now you are on the inside, up against the mountain.

The lava flow trail is at the southwestern base of the volcano at about 7000 feet. There are no guides or interpretive signs but there are some interesting views along the way. I had a mule deer nearly run me down on this trail. I guess I was between it and the shade of its favorite tree and the deer, apparently not the patient type, was unwilling to wait until I got out of the way!

The Boca trail, which I think is the best of the three marked trails, wanders around the western base of the volcano where several different types of flows occurred at different times. If you do this trail definitely pick up the trail guide at the visitor’s center. It might only be a mile or so long but I spent 3 hours on this trail.

After leaving the monument I went north to the little town of Folsom. Just west of here, after a flood pretty much destroyed the town in the mid 1900’s, is where a cowboy and amateur archeologist  out surveying fence damage, discovered mastodon bones exposed by the flood. That find quickly led to the discovery of the earliest sign of man in North America.

There is a small museum in Folsom but, despite the hours posted on the door, it was locked up, so, leaving town undereducated, I headed west on SR72. On leaving Folsom this road follows the Dry Cimarron Creek for a few miles then climbs the eastern edge of the massive Johnson Mesa, the largest mesa in New Mexico. After crossing the grazing lands on top of the mesa the highway falls off the western edge and eventually wanders back into Raton where, you guessed it, I checked back into ‘my’ campsite. Much of SR72 has a 35 MPH speed limit and there are a few 15 MPH switchbacks. 50 MPH is about as fast as you want to go anywhere along this road though there are sections posted at 55. A much more interesting drive than US64 which sticks to the lower elevations to the south. 
I really like the color and texture contrasts in this photo
taken in an old camping area near the base of the volcano
(Only day-tripping is allowed now days.)
The Rim trail looks like easy walking, but it's not that easy!

It get's pretty windy up here on the rim!

Zoomed in you can see that these people
have one cool back yard!

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