Ever wanted to venture into the crater of a volcano? In Northeast New Mexico, you can do just that in Capulin Volcano National Monument.
Capulin is in the heart of the 8,000-square-mile Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. Capulin Volcano rises more than 1,300 feet above the shortgrass prairie. The first time I saw it was at sunset and the national monument was closed. I told myself the next time I was in Northeast New Mexico, I was going to make sure I got to drive to the top.
The Capulin Volcano erupted 60,000 years ago, near the end of period of regional volcanism beginning 9 million years ago, and is now extinct. It’s a cinder cone volcano and those typically have only one period of activity. Although, it is possible a new cinder cone could form elsewhere in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field – highly unlikely during our lifetime, but it could happen. Capulin’s cone is mainly loose cinders, ash, and other rock debris that formed as the lava cooled quickly. One thing you notice about Capulin Volcano is it’s symmetry. That’s because the cinder cone was preserved when later lava flows didn’t come through the main crater, but instead from its boca (Spanish for mouth) at the cone’s western base.
The two-mile drive up Volcano Road gets a little white knuckled in spots, but the views from the top are worth it. The parking lot at the top of Volcano Road sits at an elevation of 7,877′ and you can see the Sierra Grande, an extinct volcano rising 2,200 feet above the plain about 10 miles southeast of Capulin.
I headed down the Crater Vent Trail. At only 0.2 miles, the trail is short as it descends 105 feet to the bottom of the crater, the now plugged vent of Capulin volcano.
If you’ve got time, I’d suggest hiking the Crater Rim Trail. The one-mile loop ascents to the peak’s highest point of 8,182′ then ends with a steep descent back to the parking lot.
Capulin Volcano National Monument is 30 miles east of Raton and I-25 or 58 miles west of Clayton on US 64 and 87 in Northeast New Mexico.