Recently, my family and I visited Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico. We have visited Capulin as a family before, but this was the first time for my 5-year-old niece. This year, we took a scenic drive across Johnson Mesa from Raton, NM to the monument. After a picnic lunch, we walked the rim of the dormant volcano and enjoyed the views and the nature along the way.
Directions to the Volcano:
Capulin Volcano is located 33 miles east of Interstate 25 at Raton, NM, via US Highway 64/87. The entrance is on New Mexico Highway 325, 3 miles north of the town of Capulin. If you enter from the east on Highway 64/87, the monument is 58 miles west of Clayton, NM. There is no commercial, public transportation available to the park.
This time, we chose an alternate route. Few people take the 45 minute route of travel on NM highway 72 from Raton to Folsom and then NM 325 to the volcano. This is a beautiful summer drive, but may be closed in the winter. Allow extra time to negotiate the narrow roads. Some of the pavement is in poor condition, but the scenery more than makes up for the slower drive. From Raton, you will drive through a broad canyon on to Johnson Mesa, which is well over 8,000 feet. The top of the Mesa is a flat, grassy volcanic plateau. Look for grazing cattle and antelope, as well as abandoned and working ranches.
Johnson Mesa Stone Church:
Be sure to stop at the stone church on Johnson Mesa. St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church was built by homesteaders over 100 years ago, and is still in use today. Step inside to sign the guest register. You can also view the cemetery across the road, where fifty-four people are known to be buried.
Folsom, New Mexico:
From the mesa, the road drops down into the Dry Cimarron River valley at Folsom. Take a tour through the Folsom Museum, which is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. from Memorial through Labor Day weekends. The museum is open weekends only from May to September. The museum contains history of Folsom and the surrounding area, including a display about the Folsom Man, a discovery which predated the existence of man in the area by at least 10,000 years.
Capulin Volcano National Park:
From the museum, the volcano is 8 miles south on NM 325. Stop at the Visitor’s Center for information and entrance. Parking at the top is limited, so the rangers regulate the number of vehicles that can enter at a time. Hopefully, your wait time will not be long. Enjoy the history in the visitor’s center while waiting.
You will then drive up a winding road around the volcano to the top. You will park on the lowest side of the crater. From there, you can walk a mile long trail around the rim of the dormant volcano, as well as take a trek to the center of the crater. Some areas are fairly steep, but there are many places to rest along the way. Around the rim, enjoy views of the surrounding area filled with lava flows, other mountains and volcanoes, small towns, and ranches.
Ladybugs Visit the Monument:
Keep your eyes open for thousands of ladybugs on the monument. This trip, the ladybugs were located at the highest point on the bushes and trees just off the trail. They migrate here on the winds and spend most of the winter atop the monument, leaving in February. It is a marvelous site that will leave you and your children amazed!
Upon leaving the monument, you can return the way you came, or continue on to the town of Capulin. Keep your eyes open for wildlife and cattle on the roads and enjoy the stunning settings created by the eruptions of the volcanoes many years ago.
My family and I will most definitely return to Capulin Monument in the future. The day was enjoyed by all, from my 85-year-old grandmother to my 5-year-old niece, and everyone in between!
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