A Quick Stop at Capulin Volcano National Monument

Summer Vacation 2020 – The “Are We There Yet Chronicles?”

When I started making our family vacation plans for 2019, I came across a small national monument in northeastern New Mexico. Capulin Volcano National Monument looked like a fun, quick, educational stop for our family, but it was just one more thing that I couldn’t justify on an already packed vacation plan. It was going to have to wait for a future trip.

That trip was this year.

We knew that the drive from Alamosa and our Great Sand Dunes adventuring to Calupin, New Mexico, was going to be one of the shortest drives of our entire vacation. We were still concerned about two more mountain passes, but we arrived in Calupin by early afternoon. Capulin is a tiny town in the middle of the desert and our camping spot was a typical small-town private campground. In other words, it was a parking lot with hook-ups.

I had made a two-night reservation because we didn’t know how long we would need in the national monument, but it appeared that we weren’t going to need both nights.

We made the decision right then to set up camp and head straight to the monument, less than 10 minutes away from where we were staying.

While New Mexico has strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, Capulin Volcano was the first visitor center out of four that we visited that was actually open. While they were limiting the number of people inside and requiring masks, we were still able to get Junior Ranger books and helpful information from the rangers before heading up the drive to the top of the crater.

The extinct volcano rises over 1,300 feet above the surrounding desert plains, taking visitors to 8,182 feet above sea level. From the parking lot at the top, there is a mile loop hike around the rim of the crater. It includes a series of steep climbs, but after multiple hikes in the Rocky Mountains, our family was up to the challenge.

The views were spectacular.

By the time we reached the end of the trail, we were running short on time. The rim parking lot closed at 4:15 and it was almost 4:00, but I still wanted to climb into the crater. I left Jeff and the kids to work on their Junior Ranger books and I rushed along the Crater Vent Trail (0.2 miles one way) and got just far enough into the crater to take a couple pictures and return to my anxious son who was worried he wasn’t going to get back to the visitor center in time to get his Junior Ranger badge.

We returned with enough time for the kids to get sworn in as Junior Rangers. While it was the fourth badge they received on the trip, it was the first time they got sworn by an actual ranger, due to COVID-19 restrictions. This time they were motivated because the end result felt more real to them, and it was good to see them so excited about getting both their badge and a patch for hiking around the rim.

We didn’t head back towards the monument to stargaze, although it is an International Dark Sky park, so if we had time it would have been a good final sightseeing event. Regardless, we were thankful that we were able to sneak in this last stop before heading home to hot, humid Houston.

Capulin Volcano is definitely a worthwhile stop for travelers going through northeast New Mexico. If you aren’t towing a large camper, it is a doable stop on your way through the state. If you are, it might be worth a single night stay close by, just so that you can spend more time exploring and not worry about the extra load behind you.

We were glad to have this as our final vacation stop. It was time for the long haul back through Texas.

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