We finally paid this unique and scenic place a personal visit!
Over the past five years, we have traveled regularly to northeast New Mexico in the summer to escape the heat at home a bit. However, on our drives to and from the area, we have never had time to stop at a rather prominent national monument along the way. We have always enjoyed seeing it as we drove by and always remarked that we needed to make the time for a quick visit in the future. So, on our week-long trip to the area back in early September by ourselves, we finally decided to take a little time to make the short drive from our route to check it out in person.
Capulin Volcano National Monument is definitely worth a quick (or even longer) visit when driving on Highway 87 between Clayton and Raton. Since we started visiting this area each summer a few years ago, I have truly loved the beautiful and unique scenery in this remote area that is comprised of extinct volcanoes and grasslands because is it so unique, unlike any other area we have visited.
Highway 87 cuts across the Raton-Clayton volcano field, and Capulin Volcano is actually one of the youngest cones in this area, listed as *probably* extinct, which I find a little fascinating. It last erupted 56,000 to 62,000 years ago, and there are about 125 cinder cones in this field. If this area in northeast New Mexico has been blessed with good rains, this entire area is truly a spectacular sight to see, but I find it spectacular pretty much every time we make the trip, it seems.
Our side trip to the monument only took us a little over an hour, but it was an hour well-spent just to drive up the volcano to see the amazing views.
The visitor center sits at the base of the volcano and has a small gift shop where we bought our traditional souvenirs when visiting state and national parks, a magnet for me and a hiking stick medallion for Hubby. His wooden hiking stick, made from an old broom handle that his father had, is really an impressive thing now. He did such a great job staining it and adding some thin green rope accents, and it is displays his many medallions in a most impressive way. He used to use it as his regular hiking stick, but now, it is primarily a display piece in our RV. My magnets just sit on our refrigerator at home, not nearly as impressive, but I enjoy seeing them everyday and letting them remind me of so many beautiful places and fond memories.
After parking the RV in the visitor center parking lot, we loaded up in the car with the dogs for the drive up the volcano. The drive to the upper lot was not a long one, but it was pretty curvy in parts while also offering some great views, at least for the passengers. 😉
Even though the park allows some folks to drive their RVs to the top, after stopping two-way traffic on both ends to allow the RV sufficient room to make the drive up and back down, there is absolutely no way we could recommend anyone doing that! The parking lot at the top has very little room for cars, much less RVs. Just leave the RV in the lot at the bottom and drive the car to the top… and save some aggravation to others by not inconveniencing them on their own drives up and down the volcano.
We were slightly disappointed that the parking lot at the top wasn’t actually very close to the top of the volcano, as we hoped it would be. It was still a pretty steep hike on a long sidewalk to the top of the volcano, and we couldn’t take the dogs along on any trails up there. I walked up the very steep sidewalk just a bit to grab a few photos, but it wasn’t a good plan to go too far, since I was wearing my flip flops.
Nevertheless, the views of the extinct volcanoes in every direction from this vantage point were fabulous! Taking in the views of the area while driving on Highway 87 is great, but taking a little time to see these ancient volcanoes from on high was even better.
I’m glad we finally made this little side trip to see Capulin Volcano, and I certainly encourage others to do the same when in this area. (Just leave the RV at the visitor center.) The views are spectacular, especially on a clear day.
There is also a small, privately-owned RV park (Good Sam rated) nearby in Capulin just a few miles away, that would probably be nice for a night or two.
Also, be sure to check the park hours of operation before planning your visit, as they shorten their operating hours at the park in the off season.
We certainly enjoyed our nice vacation week in northern New Mexico and the Enchanted Circle, but it’s always good to come home again, too. After all, there’s no place like home and our always magnificent sunsets.
Our own personal “summer” of RV travel was finally beginning after our long, hot actual summer months at home, and little did we know how much fun we would have on our shorter trips in the coming weeks with a family member, with some friends and also on our own. More to come.
I made a solo trip to see our California kids last weekend, since my hubby had to make a long trip to Europe, and it was a good weekend for me to visit them. My daughter mentioned the possibility of us visiting the Point Reyes area together for the weekend, so after spending a little time exploring options for lodging on the internet, I found a great place for us to stay on Saturday night. It was also one of the few hotels that did not require a two-night minimum on that weekend. Lodging is quite limited in this entire area, so an advance reservation is definitely required on a weekend, or a least a spring weekend when so many people seem to be in this area for wildflowers and whale watching at the point.
I included details of the entire weekend in this post, making it a bit longer than what I normally share. I haven’t been on much of a writing roll lately, so I felt it better to share the entire trip here while I had the time to do so, rather than possibly dragging it out.
This was my first time to fly out of a different airport in my part of the state. I saved over $200 to simply drive two hours to this airport, and I was able to get better connections as well, even though it is a smaller airport. On my second flight on Friday evening, I flew into the Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose, and it was a beautiful sunset flight across some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. I always love the flight from Denver to the bay area, but it is especially scenic from the air with snow still on the Rocky Mountains. Seeing this sight just before sunset on this trip was extra special, too.
Daughter picked me up at the airport, and we enjoyed a few hours together before her hubby got home from a late meeting. We also discovered that my airbed had a small leak in it, so after debating some options, we found ourselves at Target just before midnight buying another airbed. It was actually a delightful and fun time, and we “made some memories.” They are now the proud owners of a brand spanking new Coleman airbed that has a built-in electric pump for added convenience. I have to say it was very comfortable, too.
On Saturday morning, we all dropped by a local Starbucks for a quick breakfast and coffee before hitting the road to Point Reyes, and I always enjoy visiting some of the stores that they frequent. That may sound odd, but it’s just interesting to see these places that are a regular part of their daily lives now. The drive to Point Reyes took about 1.5 hours, and many people were out on their bicycles as we arrived in the area on a perfect weather day.
The Point Reyes Seashore Lodge was a nice place for us to stay. It is only a few miles from Point Reyes Station, and it is one of very few lodging options in the area with close proximity to the main areas of the national seashore. We found it to be a delightful little place with a good restaurant on the property where we dined on Saturday evening. The grounds were immaculate with a beautiful stream on property, and we were able to just hike to the Bear Valley Visitor Center in the national park, which was only about a half mile away on a nice trail. We also enjoyed a good complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel on Sunday morning, too. The rooms are heated and cooled through radiant heating and cooling in the floor. Yes, the floor. If this might not be for you, think twice prior to staying here. I only got a bit warm late in the afternoon when we had full sun on the windows, and I slept with one window cracked open just a bit for some fresh air.
We also dined twice at the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station. We ate lunch there when we first arrived in the area on Saturday, and we also ate appetizers and dinner there on Sunday evening. That proved to be an especially fun experience, too. We arrived at the restaurant too early for dinner on Sunday, so we started with appetizers in the bar, then decided to just stay for dinner when we saw a band setting up to play live music. The group was a fabulous blue-grass band, and the longer they played, the more the locals and visitors started streaming in to hear them. By the time we left, our table was quite coveted and was quickly grabbed by another group.
Our first hike on Saturday afternoon took us on an informal trail from our hotel to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was a .6 mile hike with only a small incline.
We looked around the visitor center for a few minutes, then we opted to hike the Arch Rock Trail for a while. It is a long trail, and it is also now closed further down the trail after a tragic collapse that killed one person about a month ago. We hiked to beautiful Divide Meadow, and it was a steady uphill climb most of the way to that point. Restrooms were available at Divide Meadow, and it would be a great place for a picnic while on this hike. From this point, the trail starts to go back down toward the ocean, but we opted to turn around and head back to our hotel and get ready for dinner that evening.
After dining at the hotel that evening, we decided to play pool in the game room at the hotel. Daughter beat her hubby in the first match, then I took her on in the second match. She was amazed that I knew how to play pool, and I regaled her with the story of how I met her dad and smacked him good in a game of pool on that first meeting, long before we ever started dating. She was pretty fascinated by it all, and I will need to brush up on my pool game for future matches, as she beat me quite soundly.
On Sunday morning, we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel, then drove to the Ken Patrick Visitor Center in the national park. This is where we were required to catch a park shuttle bus to the drop areas for the two trails that we planned to hike that day. The shuttle is also $7 per person and exact change was required – good to know if you plan to go at some point and plan to pay with cash.
Unlike the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was located in a more wooded area, this one sat on a beautiful beach.
Our first hike on Sunday morning took us to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse. No doubt, this is the primary sight to see in the national park, too. While I’m not sure this is technically a hike per se, the trek to the lighthouse is certainly a hike unto itself, since it is a half-mile hike uphill from the shuttle bus stop area to the lighthouse visitor center, as well as an additional walk via 308 steps down and back to the lighthouse, covering a 365 foot vertical drop/climb each way. A sign nearby shows this to be the equivalent of descending and ascending a 30-story building. Fortunately, this was our first hike on Sunday morning. My legs definitely felt that climb back up, but I made it just fine with a few rest stops along the way. It was worth the effort, too. The historic lighthouse was a special sight to see, especially for me as I love lighthouses and seldom get to see them in person like this. I will always remember and treasure seeing this special historic lighthouse, for sure.
The lighthouse area here on the point is also one of the foggiest and windiest places on the west coast, but we were fortunate to have a calm and beautiful day. This is likely the exception rather than the norm here, too. I’m not sure how I would have made the steep climb down to and up from the lighthouse if the wind had been blowing hard. If the wind is blowing 40 mph or higher, the steps to the lighthouse are closed for safety reasons, and I totally understand why. Whale watching is a big activity here in the spring months, but unfortunately, we did not see any while we were here, even though several had been spotted earlier that day.
One point of interesting trivia about the Point Reyes Lighthouse is the fact that the movie, The Fog (1979), was filmed here. That movie is one that my family enjoyed and my hubby still likes to watch on occasion even today. For more information on those filming locations, check out Film Location for The Fog. I’m not much for scary movies, but The Fog was a good one.
After hiking to the lighthouse, we then caught the shuttle bus to the trailhead for the Chimney Rock trail. It was the easiest trail of our trip with only a slight incline on part of the trail. While the Arch Rock Trail was wooded with quite a bit of shade, the Chimney Rock Trail was wide open on a peninsula with ocean on both sides of us, and it was so neat to see a large group of elephant seals sunning on one of the beaches along the way.
Hiking is such a great activity for the body and soul, especially when you have the opportunity to hike in such beautiful places as this. Hikes like these inspire me to stay in good shape so that I can try to keep up with my kids on such fun adventures in the future, too.
After our hiking was done, we took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center, ate dinner in Point Reyes Station and started our drive back to San Francisco via a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. My hotel for the night was near SFO, so it made sense to take this route on the way. Garmin also surprised us by taking us on a new little road that was populated with some beautiful redwoods, which was quite a surprise for us.
I always enjoy seeing the Golden Gate Bridge again. It is such an awesome sight.
While my quick little weekend trip was too short, as always, I’m glad to have spent some quality time with the kids again, seeing some of God’s fabulous handiwork and enjoying their company, especially right now. We had some really deep conversations, such as why some eggs are white and some are brown, and what exactly the distinction is between a brook, a creek and a stream. We coined a new word to just make it easy and cover them all – a brook-creek-stream! You heard it here first.
Sadly, my times with them are few and far between, for sure, but this quick visit definitely helped to brighten my spirits as I continue to maneuver my way through this first hard year after losing my mother, our last living parent, back in January. I found myself fighting back tears on a couple of occasions on the trip, especially as I recalled bringing Mom along on our first trip to the bay area a few years ago. I’m so glad we took her with us on that memorable trip now, too. While memories can be a little hard at times like this, they are still bright lights that make our lives better if we look for them and treasure them. They are kind of like lighthouses, I guess. That is one reason I like to photograph and write about times like this now. I want to hang onto these special, beautiful memories that are such blessings in my life.
In a post just a few weeks ago, I lamented on how I needed Spring to get here. I got a great big dose of it on this trip, not just in the sights I saw but especially the company I had with me. I also got a beautiful dose of it a couple of weeks ago in the Texas bluebonnets, too. I am blessed – so blessed indeed. Life goes on.
I highly recommend visiting Point Reyes National Seashore, but keep in mind that the lighthouse is closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Just be sure to keep that in mind and visit on a day that it is open, since it is the primary sight to see here. Visiting on a good weather day with calm winds would be a bonus, too.
On our final afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park on Labor Day, we opted for a shorter hike to Alberta Falls. The total hike was a 1.7 mile round trip with only a 200 foot elevation change going up to the falls, but after our more adventurous hike in the morning to Nymph and Dream Lakes, we decided that this would be a good option. Unfortunately, this particular trail was quite crowded with other hikers, and it was especially crowded once we reached the falls. We just made the best of it and enjoyed our time in this beautiful area as best we could. I also tried to be patient at the falls to find opportunities to take photographs without too many people in them as I could, with some good success.
The further we hiked on this particular trail, the more it reminded me of an epic hike we made at Yosemite National Park on May 18, 2011 – the famous Mist Trail hike to Vernal Fall. The hike to Alberta Falls seemed so similar to that hike to me, only on a much smaller and drier scale. Our hike to Vernal Fall will likely be our most strenuous and memorable hike ever, as it will be hard to beat our unforgettable experience on that day. Let me share a quick flashback for just a moment, since this hike came back to mind in a big way on this day.
The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall in Yosemite is a 2.4 mile round trip hike, but it has a 1000 foot elevation change. The last 600 foot climb from the footbridge to the top of the fall is a much steeper (and wetter) climb that is adjacent to the fall. It is labeled a “strenuous” hike, and it deserves every bit of that designation. We almost made it to the top of Vernal Fall but stopped just short because we were absolutely soaked and freezing to death. Snow had unexpectedly fallen the night before, and it was melting everywhere around us that next morning, almost like a rain storm as it quickly melted from the trees. When we encountered the mist of the falls past the footbridge, the cold damp water on our aching bodies finally just got to be more than we could endure. The trail got quite steep toward the top, and I was afraid of falling on the wet rocks. Nevertheless, it was just an amazing hike and one that we will surely never forget. I have some great photos from that hike, and I really need to share much more about that memorable trip here sometime.
I kept thinking of our hike to Vernal Fall as we hiked this beautiful trail up to Alberta Falls on a much sunnier and warmer day. The trail to Alberta Falls is a lovely trail with wonderful views, and the fall is especially beautiful. I’m glad that we ended our trip with this wonderful hike, and I would love to hike it again sometime when it is not so crowded. It was especially neat that it brought back the memory of our Mist Trail hike so vividly, as I had not thought about that hike in quite some time.
After we returned to our car, we made a quick drive through Glacier Basin campground nearby to look at the RV sites, and we had mixed feelings about the campground after seeing it.
While the location is absolutely wonderful in the park, especially the views and the proximity to the popular hiking trails and bus routes, we were honestly not impressed with the campground itself. So, we decided to check out a few private RV parks in Estes Park before starting our drive back to the Denver area that evening.
If we ever decide to bring our RV all the way to Estes Park, we would likely try to stay at Spruce Lake RV Resort, if possible. To our great surprise, we happened upon a “family” of elk in the Spruce Lake campground, too! What a treat it was to see them up close. They are such magnificent animals, not to even mention how cute that baby was!
We loved the town of Estes Park so much and would thoroughly enjoy spending our days in the park and our evenings in town. To that point, we would also be happy to just leave the RV at home and stay at a motel in town, especially for a quick trip to the area. We also might consider leaving the RV at a park at a lower elevation near Longmont and just commute back and forth about an hour each way. There are several ways for us to work this trip in the future, with or without the RV.
After visiting three campgrounds in town, we enjoyed a quick Mexican food dinner at Grumpy Gringo in Estes Park, then drove back to our hotel in the Denver area. We took a different route back to Denver on Highway 36, which had apparently just re-opened after being closed for road repairs after the big flood in September 2013 that washed away part of the road. The highway was in great shape and made for a much faster, although less scenic, drive back to our hotel.
We turned onto the interstate just as the sun was setting to our west over the mountains, providing us with an amazing Rocky Mountain sunset to enjoy.
I was truly sad to leave this beautiful area and hope to return sooner rather than later.
After we finished our half-mile walk/hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, we began our uphill trek to see two more beautiful Alpine lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Our goal was to hike to both lakes, then return to our car for a late picnic lunch before hiking to Alberta Falls in the afternoon, although we held open the possibility of hiking on to Emerald Lake once we were at Dream Lake.
While our hike around Bear Lake was on a trail at an elevation of 9,475 feet that was basically flat, the trail up to the other lakes was a slow and steady climb, with a few breaks along the way. Fortunately, we were more acclimated to the high altitude on this day than we were two days earlier at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, when we attempted our first hike above 9000 feet and had to cut it short. In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed this particular hike to the lakes and got a good, calorie-burning workout in the process.
The entire hike was amazingly beautiful, and that is likely an understatement. This is one of the most beautiful sites that anyone will ever see, so rather than repeat that fact over and over again, I will try to refrain from stating this fact and just show a few photos to share that fact.
The first part of the hike to Nymph Lake climbed to an elevation of 9,705 feet over a distance of a half-mile, and the climb began right away once we left Bear Lake. It felt like climbing a long staircase for much of the way, but it did not take long to finally arrive at our first scenic stop at Nymph Lake. We had a nice rest break here, enjoying the view and catching our breath a bit. I was surprised to see that I actually had a little cell signal here, so I took that opportunity to take a picture with my phone camera and send it to a couple of good friends who were dealing with brutally hot weather at their respective locations that holiday weekend.
After taking photos and enjoying the views, we then continued onward and upward to Dream Lake, which sits at an elevation of 9,912 feet and is .8 mile from Nymph Lake. It was the highest elevation we ever attempted to hike, and thankfully, it was a great experience for us.
Dream Lake is just amazingly beautiful. There, I said it again. It is hard to not gush over the beauty of this place. We spent quite a bit of time here at the end of our planned morning hike and just enjoyed being there. I was quite surprised to see how many people were already there along the banks with their fishing poles, too. It was such a peaceful, serene place at almost 10,000 feet, and our reward for our climb was definitely worth it.
After hiking to the far end of the lake and just a bit beyond, we made a decision to return to the car for a late lunch, rather than skipping lunch to hike on to Emerald Lake. It was nice to hike downhill for a change, too. Just like a trip by car, the scenery is often quite spectacular behind us, and we discovered that happy fact as we made our way back to Bear Lake. It was just a grand hike in both directions.
Once we were back at the car, we enjoyed another picnic lunch in the park at a scenic spot nearby, which was handy for us. It was nice to not have to sit in the car to eat this time, as the weather was pretty much perfect. Clouds and cooler breezes began to roll in a bit, so we made it a quick lunch, then set out for our last adventure in the park on this trip – a hike to beautiful Alberta Falls, which I will share in my next post.
Today, September 3, marks the beginning of a year of celebration at Rocky Mountain National Park, as the park celebrates its 100th anniversary! What an honor and privilege it was to be there this past Labor Day weekend, even though we missed the big kickoff party today by only two days.
This amazing park should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially this year, if possible. I took the photo above just two days ago on Labor Day morning at Bear Lake as we began a fabulous day-long hiking adventure in the park for the very first time.
I will be sharing more information and pictures here soon on our wonderful trip to RMNP, once I find the proper words to try to do it justice. We also adored the scenic town of Estes Park, the town of Golden and Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and we will most definitely return to this area again when time permits.