April 26, 2015

4/21/15 - Capulin Volcano NP

I knew there were volcanoes in New Mexico--we've already been to El Malpais National Monument . I just didn't know there were so many! Northern New Mexico's prairie grassland is full of mesas, extinct cinder cones and shield volcanos, so the landscape is different than any we've seen before.  Capulin Volcano National Monument is considered "a superb example of a cinder cone volcano".

The two-mile long road up to the rim is a 360 degree spiral, 1,300' above the plains. You can see part of it here.
Elevation at the parking lot is 7,877'.  The Crater Rim Trail is a one mile-loop around the perimeter of the crater rim, with an elevation gain of 305'.  (Sorry for all the numbers, but sometimes you can't relate until you see them.)  The trail does keep going up and up and up, but it's not terribly steep, mostly...that's when you stop, gaze out at the High Plains and the other volcanoes and take lots of pictures. Just remember that the air at 8,000' is so thin it's actually transparent!
It's early spring and most of the vegetation is dormant.  The green is pinyon and ponderosa pine and juniper.  If you're not wheezing from the altitude, you get a chance at heavy breathing from the pollen. I think a lot of the ugly grey shrub is the capulin plant the volcano was named after. They used the Spanish name because naming a volcano "chokecherry" would be pretty silly.

There is, of course, a lot of lava rock.  And some dead juniper, which makes the best props for pictures. And the view of the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field down below is amazing.
On a  clear day, you can see the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mounains.  Pretty hazy today though...One of the many other volcanoes that can be seen in the distance is "Sierra Grande". With an elevation of 8,702', it's even taller than Capulin. Unlike Capulin, it's not a cinder cone; it's a shield volcano. (There's a third kind, but I forgot what they call it. It's the kind that Mount St. Helens is.)
Looking the other direction you can see down into the bottom of the crater and the plugged vent. You can also see the parking lot and the trail down into the crater. Stay tuned....
As we worked our way around the rim, the view changed.  This little crater down near the base of Capulin is called "Baby Capulin". It looks a lot lower than we are, but it's elevation is almost 6,900'! Things really look different when you're higher. (Must be like George's perspective when he looks down at me.)
Nearby you can see the lava flow (the black stuff that looks like shadows) and pressure ridges in front.
After we got back to the parking lot, we headed down into the crater. The trail is just .2 mile, and it's only uphill on the way back!  On the way down we saw these pasque flowers. Aren't they pretty, hairy leaves and all?
The vent's not terribly exciting because a lot of the lava fell down and covered it up.  Actually, it just looks like a pile of rocks.
After lunch, we hiked the Lava Flow Trail near the Visitor Center.  The most interesting part are the lava mounds called "tumuli".  They formed where the lava crust cooled some and the lava underneath created pressure that squeezed up and broke it. I think it looks like a hill of broken asphalt. 

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