Raton, NM May 25
New Mexico’s state motto is “Land of Enchantment”. It could be “Land of Volcanoes”.
Today we visited Capulin Volcano National Monument, east of Raton near the Colorado border, and discovered that New Mexico has more volcanoes than any other U.S. state. We were quite surprised; it certainly would not have been our guess. We would probably have placed it around 10th. The volcanoes are inactive but as one can see driving along I-25 in northern NM, volcano cones are quite evident. In addition, many of the mesas and uplands in this area are the result of various types of lava flows or volcanoes.
Capullin formed somewhere around 60,000 years ago. It is part of the Raton-Clayton volcano field,some 8,000 square miles in northeast New Mexico. It is a classic cone volcano, where eruptions spewed gas and lava up through a vent in the earth. The debris falls back to earth in a cone shape around the vent. At Capulin, lava also flowed from around its base, creating a stable foundation. Lava flowed for miles all around the cone, eventually covering 16 square miles. Vegetation later took hold on the slopes as time and erosion broke down the cinders and boulders into soil. Small wildflowers were growing along the paths.
The National Monument was created to preserve this classical example of a cone volcano. We went on three hikes here. The first was around the lava flow at the base of the volcano. The hike had only minor hills to climb, but the footing on the lava and cinder rocks was a challenge.
The visitor center is at an elevation of 7,242 feet. There is a road leading up, stopping at a parking area at 7,877 feet above sea level. Then you hike up (and down) 305 more feet along a mile long loop trail aroound the rim. The views are fantastic. Today it was windy (we took our hats off for about one half of the walk so they would not blow away) and the temperature at 9 AM was about 70 degrees F. I did experience a bit of vertigo. The path starts out right along the cliff edge but it is paved so that helped me to keep my footing. Later on, it widens out. In the distance are other volcanoes; Sierra Grande is the highest at 1,000 feet above Capulin. The third hike was only half a mile, descending another 105 feet into the crater vent.
Before and after the volcano hikes, we took two snack and water breaks. Our lodging, the Budget Host in Raton, was better than I had expected but the continental breakfast did not have many options that appealed to me (other than cold milk). And as it turned out, there was no lunch break today, only another snack. The small towns we went through are devoid of food options.
Our next stop was Sugarite Canyon State Park and we drove back roads on top of the mesa to reach it. Pronghorn, cattle and horses were in frequent view. We stopped at a little back roads church that had been thriving during the mining days. Today, cattle ranches surround it and the local churches try to take turns holding services in it throughout the summer. The doors were supposed to be unlocked 24/7 but we were unable to get them open. Birds loved the church though, there were numerous bird nests along the outside roof line.
Sugarite Canyon State Park is nestled up against the Coloado border, just a few miles from Raton. Over time at Sugarite, two levels of peat were laid down from time when the central US was a sea. The peat hardened and became coal. Those coal layers were covered by basalt and sandstone from land uplift and volcanic action. The coal layers are quite thick.
From 1912 to 1941, Sugarite was a company coal town run by the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railroad. Between 400 and 1,000 people lived here and mined coal. The mines closed and a state reclamation project has stabilized the slag beds and now a park is situated in this canyon.
The company town was built on the slopes of the canyon below the coal mines. Only the foundations are left, but the one mile trail up the side of the canyon has markers and displays at various sites, highlighting the buildings which stood there decades ago. The park also includes several lakes that had been created to provide water for the City of Raton and for the Santa Fe railroad. Mines in the area are closed and company towns demolished. This park and its hike provided room for the imagination to visualize the scene when it was lively.
When we left the park, we returned to Raton and stopped for ice cream at Patchwork Phoenix. The proprietors mentioned a drive into the mountains that might have elk, bear, and deer visible. The road is along part of the property owned by Vermejo Park Ranch. This ranch is owned by Ted Turner and is considered the largest privately owned continuous property in the US. The ranch focuses on various ecological and animal preservation efforts. It also offers lodging at various properties. At Casa Grande, you can have exclusive use of the lodge, with meals, for 8 guests for about $5,000 per night. Needless to say, this information is from their web site, not from personal experience. In any event, we took a 30 mile ride down a state road bordering part of the property and only saw two elk.
Dinner was back (we ate there last night) at Mulligans, the restaurant at the Best Western Plus, the “only full service hotel” in Raton. Food was good with decent menu options. Thursday we head back to Santa Fe.
Ed and Chris