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.