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Capulin Volcano

Santa Fe Day Trips – Capulin Volcano National Monument

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In between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Colorado Springs, we happened upon a treasure that we didn’t know existed. We saw signs for Capulin Volcano, but honestly, I had never heard of a volcano in northeast New Mexico so close to the Texas border. Then we started seeing this big hill/mountain in the distance and decided that we would stop for a few minutes and check it out.

Capulin Volcano was our first experience with a national monument outside of Texas. Driving up to the top of the volcano was a little harrowing because my husband really doesn’t like heights and the drop off was on his side. He got a closeup view of how close to “falling off the mountain” we were, and I got to hear about it! In retrospect, it was not all that high.

The Visitor Center, about half way up, offers a short movie as well as a natural habitat garden featuring native plants and animals. The road continues for another two miles or so to a large parking area that offers amazing views. From the top of the volcano, you have a 360° view that encompasses approximately 8,000 square miles with views of multiple states.

There is a hiking trail that allows you to hike the rim of the volcano. It doesn’t look that far, but our attempt to make the full trip was unsuccessful. We made it about one-third of the way before a few factors stopped us. First, the altitude got to us; we were huffing and puffing. Second, the girls and Roy were a little apprehensive of how close to the edge the trail was and how far one might fall before hitting the bottom. Third, and frankly the most important of all, I saw an unusual animal through the brush. I quietly called Roy over and pointed it out. I thought it was a coyote or wolf until he said, “Honey, I think that’s a bear!” We saw a brown bear, VERY up close and personal.

I thought this was the best photo opportunity I might have during the entire trip, so I decided to get a little closer and sent Roy and the girls back toward the car. As I crept forward, all I could think was, “I hope it doesn’t chase me. I don’t think I can outrun it, but I’m going to give it my best shot.” All was well, and I’m still here with a once-in-a-lifetime photo for my efforts.

Black Bear at Capulin Volcano

Up close and personal with a black bear at Capulin Volcano.

Back at the Visitor Center, we reported seeing the bear to the rangers who said that it was a black bear, despite its brown color, that they estimated to be two to three years old. The girls completed the Junior Ranger booklets and received their first ever National Park Junior Ranger certificates and badges. Watching the rangers interact with the girls as they learned about the history and the science of Capulin and pledged to be responsible citizens was a treat. They clearly loved their jobs and were able to impart their excitement to our children.

Tip: Be sure to pack water and food. We stopped mid-morning and stayed much later than we planned (about hours). There is a vending machine on site but nowhere close to get food. We ended up snacking for a very late lunch as we continued our drive. The granola bars, trail mix, and fruit snacks really paid off that day!

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Capulin Volcano photo by Decklan Miller-McGee / CC BY 2.0

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Heather and her family were born and raised in east Texas, where she is an assistant principal. Her husband teaches high school chemistry and her daughters are…

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