Capulin Volcano National Monument

Location: Capulin, New Mexico
Date: August 19, 2011

The view west from the summit parking area

New Mexico contains a great array of volcanic features that is comparable only to, and perhaps more diverse than, Hawaii.  Among the volcanic features are the vast lava fields of El Malpais National Monument, the supervolcano at the Valles Caldera, and the cinder cones in the northeast part of the state, including Capulin Volcano National Monument.  Of the many cinder cones in the region, Capulin was chosen to be protected because it is a nearly perfect example of a cinder cone volcano.

Cinder cones are conical volcanoes that are built of cinders, or small pieces of lava with many air pockets in them.  Perhaps the most famous example of a cinder cone volcano is Parícutin, a volcano that began erupting in 1943 in a corn field in Mexico.  Within a year Parícutin grew to be 1,100 feet above the field.

The summit crater

Capulin erupted about 60,000 years ago and is now extinct because cinder cones usually have only one life.  The volcano rises 1,300 feet above the surrounding plains, and the park road circles the volcano until you reach the crater at the top.  As you ascend the volcano prairie grasses give way to pinyon-juniper woodlands.  At the top a one mile trail circles the crater rim, while a 0.2 mile trail descends into the crater.  From the top you can see the many other extinct volcanoes that surround Capulin.

The view south from the summit

The park is very small, but the volcano's lava flows extend well beyond the park's borders.  Other than the trails at the summit, there are two additional short trails at the base of the volcano.  The Lava Flow trail is a one mile loop across exposed lava, and the Boca trail is a two mile loop that takes you to a variety of volcanic features, including lava lakes, lava tubes, and a spatter hill.

A prickly poppy at the summit

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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