Capulin Volcano
National Monument
New Mexico
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The Mountain Tells Its Story

Capulin Volcano erupted into existence 60,000 years ago. Firework-like rooster tails of glowing, superheated lava spewed high in the sky, solidified, and dropped back to Earth. The falling debris accumulated around the vent, forming a cinder cone volcano.

Capulin's birth occurred toward the end of a period of regional volcanism that began 9 million years ago. You can see hills, peaks, and other formations from this period throughout the 8,000-square-mile Raton-Clayton volcanic field. The largest is Sierra Grande, an extinct volcano rising 2,200 feet above the plain, about 10 miles southeast of Capulin. To the northwest Barilla, Raton, and Johnson are the largest lava-capped mesas.

Capulin's conical form rises over 1,300 feet above the plains, to 8,182 feet above sea level. The cone is chiefly loose cinders, ash, and other rock debris formed by gaseous lava that cooled quickly. The volcano's symmetry was preserved because later lava flows did not come from the main crater but from its boca (Spanish for mouth), at the cone's western base.

After the eruptions ceased, vegetation gained a foothold on the steep, unstable slopes. In time the cinder cone stabilized as plants took root and natural forces slowly changed the volcanic rock into soil. The volcano straddles two habitats: the grassland of the plains and the forest of the mountains.

Plants include prairie grasses and wildflowers, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and juniper. Legend has it that the volcano was named capulin (cah-poo-LEEN) after the Spanish word for chokecherry. That shrub grows throughout the park, along with mountain mahogany, scrub oak, and three-leaf sumac. Along Capulin's trails you can see a variety of plants and animals. On a clear day you can see New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma from the Crater Rim Trail's highest point.

Capulin Volcano is extinct and cinder cones typically have only one period of activity. Although Capulin Volcano will never erupt again, it's possible that a new cinder cone could form elsewhere in the Raton-Clayton volcanic field. An eruption near Capulin in our lifetime is unlikely, but it could happen.

Four Lava Flows

Capulin Volcano's eruption produced two kinds of volcanic products: cinders or scoria (frothy chunks of volcanic rock) and lava flows. The eruption began with a northeast oriented fissure but eventually focused at a single, central vent. This eruption sent cinders high into the air that fell and piled up around the vent, producing the cinder cone.

Early in the eruption, the first of four lava flows spread eastward from the cinder cone's base (first flow). Late in the eruption lava emerged from vents on the west side of the cone, now called the boca or mouth.

These flows spread south (second flow), southwest (third flow), and finally to the north (fourth flow). Some of the flows traveled through lava tubes that have since collapsed. Ripple-like marks on the lava surface, called pressure ridges, are perpendicular to the flow direction. These formed as the crust cooled while lava continued to flow underneath. Lava mounds called tumuli, squeeze-ups, formed where the crust broke, and lava oozed out under pressure.

The lava flows extend far beyond the park boundary, which includes only the cinder cone and boca. Lava flows cover 15.7 square miles; you can see them best from the crater rim.

Walk on a Volcano

Did you ever wish you could walk on a volcano, perhaps even venture down into its crater? Capulin Volcano National Monument offers five trails that vary in difficulty and length.

Crater Rim Trail Moderate: one-mile loop, paved. Enjoy spectacular 360-degree views. The trail skirts the rim in a series of moderate to steep ascents to the peak's highest point—8,182 feet—and ends with a steep descent to the parking lot.

Crater Vent Trail Moderate: 0.2 mile one way, paved. Trail descends 105 feet to the bottom of the crater, the plugged vent of Capulin Volcano.

Nature Walk Easy: (about 10 minutes), paved. Start at the visitor center for close-up views of prairie landscape and lava formations called squeeze-ups. Trail is wheelchair-accessible.

Lava Flow Trail Moderate to easy: one-mile loop, unpaved. There are some steep sections and rugged lava exposed on this otherwise easy trail.

Boca Trail Strenuous: two-mile loop, unpaved. Trail goes across lava flows, with lava lakes, lava tubes, and a spatter hill along the way.

Planning Your Visit

park map

topo map
(click for larger maps)

Visitor Center Start here for information, exhibits, a film, and a bookstore. It is open daily except Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. There is an entrance fee.

Activities Picnicking, hiking, and birdwatching are popular. A picnic area at the volcano's base has water and restrooms. In late spring and early summer, depending on rainfall, wildflowers create a colorful mosaic among the cinders. Prominent are sunflower, lupine, golden pea, paintbrush, penstemon, and verbena. In spring watch for bluebirds, warblers, blackheaded grosbeaks, and goldfinches.

Accessibility The visitor center, restrooms, picnic area, nature trail, and crater rim parking area are wheelchair-accessible. Service animals are welcome.

Services and Camping The park has no food service, lodging, or camping; find these in nearby towns.

Safety/Regulations To have a safe visit and protect the park, observe these regulations.

• Hike only on designated trails. Wear sturdy shoes with nonslip soles when hiking. The trails are maintained, but loose cinders or ice can make them dangerous.

• Fire is a potential danger; don't smoke on trails. • Visitors with heart or respiratory conditions should use caution at this elevation. • If you see a rattlesnake, stay calm, walk away slowly, and report it to a ranger. • Pets must be leashed and attended; they are not allowed on park trails.

• Trailers, regardless of length, are prohibited on Volcano Road. Pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed on Volcano Road during park operating hours. • Alcohol is prohibited. • For firearms and other regulations, check the park website. • Do not remove, disturb, or destroy any animals, plants, or geologic specimens; all are protected by federal law.

Emergencies: call 911

Getting to the Park

Capulin Volcano National Monument is in New Mexico's northeastern corner. Enter the park from N.Mex. 325, three miles north of the town of Capulin. Capulin lies 58 miles west of Clayton on U.S. 64 and 87, and 30 miles east of Raton and I-25. Volcano Road may be closed by snow for a few days each winter.

Source: NPS Brochure (2010)


Establishment

Capulin Volcano National Monument — December 31, 1987
Capulin National Monument — August 9, 1916


For More Information
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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section

Documents

A Geologic Study of the Capulin Volcano National Monument and surrounding areas, Union and Colfax Counties, New Mexico New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Open-file Report 541 (William O Sayre and Michael H. Ort, August 2011)

A Vegetation Classification and Map, Capulin Volcano National Monument NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SOPN/NRTR-2011/461 (Esteban Muldavin, Yvonne Chauvin, Teri Neville, Paul Arbetan, Anthony Fettes, Amanda Kennedy, Lisa Arnold and Paul Neville, June 2011)

Air Quality Studies at Capulin Mountain (undated)

Alberta Arctic Butterfly Surveys in the Capulin Volcano National Monument Area 2003-2004: Final Report (Kristine Johnson, Steven J. Cary and Leland Pierce, October 19, 2004)

An Administrative History: Capulin Volcano National Monument Intermountain Cultural Resource Management Professional Paper No. 67 (Jon Hunner and Shirley G. Lael, 2003)

Boundary Study, Capulin Volcano National Monument (September 1994)

Climate Change Trends for Planning at Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico (Patrick Gonzalez, September 26, 2012)

Fire Management Plan, Capulin Volcano National Monument (2005)

Foundation Document, Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico (May 2014)

Foundation Document Overview, Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico (June 2014)

General Management Plan/Environmental Assessment, Capulin Volcano National Monument (August 2010)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Capulin Volcano National Monument NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/GRD/NRR-2015/1031 (Katie KellerLynn, September 2015)

Geology of Capulin Volcano National Monument: Lava Flow Series Map (September 2015)

Geology of Capulin Volcano National Monument: Volcanic Features Map (September 2015)

Impacts of Visitor Spending on the Local Economy: Capulin Volcano National Monument, 2003 (Daniel J. Stynes and Ya-Yen Sun, January 2005)

Junior Ranger Activity Book, Capulin Volcano National Monument (2006)

Junior Ranger Activity Book, Capulin Volcano National Monument (Date Unknown)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Capulin Volcano National Monument NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SPON/NRR-2012/492 (Robert E. Bennetts, Kimberly Struthers, Patricia Valentine-Darby, Tomye Folts-Zettner, Heidi Sosinski and Emily Yost, February 2012)

Park Newspaper (The Capulin Chronicle): Fall 2011Spring 2012Fall 2012

Report on Biological Studies at Capulin Mountain National Monument During the Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1975 (A.L. Gennaro and Moise Trujillo, 1976)

Report on Biological Studies at Capulin Mountain National Monument During the Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1976 (A.L. Gennaro, J. Patton and T. Soapes, 1977)

Report on Biological Studies at Capulin Mountain National Monument During the Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1977 (A.L. Gennaro, 1978)

Report on Biological Studies at Capulin Mountain National Monument During the Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1978 (A.L. Gennaro, 1979)

Report on Biological Studies at Capulin Mountain National Monument During the Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1979 (A.L. Gennaro, Mary Sublette and Gary S. Pfaffenberger, 1980)

Resource Briefs

Air Quality, Atmospheric Deposition (February 2012)

Air Quality (February 2012)

Capulin Alberta Arctic Butterfly (February 2012)

Amphibians & Reptiles (Kristine Johnson, Giancarlo Sadoi, Gabor Racz, Josh Butler and Yvonne Chauvin, October 17, 2008)

Biological Inventory for New Mexico Parks, Capulin Volcano National Monument: Plants, Herpetofauna, Birds, & Mammals (Kristine Johnson, Giancarlo Sadoi, Gabor Racz, Josh Butler and Yvonne Chauvin, October 13, 2008)

Recent Climate Change Exposure of Capulin Volcano National Monument (July 30, 2014)

Exotic Plants 2009 (Tomye Folts-Zettner, December 1, 2009)

2010 Exotic Plant Monitoring (Tomye Folts-Zettner and Heidi Sosinski, April 2012)

2011 Exotic Plant Monitoring (Tomye Folts-Zettner and Heidi Sosinski, March 2012)

Exotic Plants (February 2012)

Geology (February 2012)

Capulin Goldenrod (February 2012)

Grasslands (February 2012)

Groundwater (February 2012)

Breeding Birds (Kristine Johnson, Giancarlo Sadoi, Gabor Racz, Josh Butler and Yvonne Chauvin, October 17, 2008)

Birds (Robert Bennetts, December 1, 2009)

Birds 2010 (Patty Valentine-Darby and Ross Lock, August 9, 2011)

2011 Landbird Monitoring (March 2012)

Landbirds (February 2012)

2012 Landbird Monitoring (Patty Valentine-Darby, May 2013)

Night Sky (February 2012)

Piñon-Juniper Habitat (February 2012)

Soundscape (February 2012)

Viewshed (February 2012)

Capulin Volcano National Monument: How might future warming alter visitation? (June 24, 2015)

Studies on the Effects of Grazing on Grassland Under Permit on the Capulin Mountain National Monument, New Mexico (A.L.Gennaro, 1975)

The Road Inventory of Capulin Volcano National Monument CAVO-7160 (Federal Highway Administration, 2005)



Handbooks ◆ Books expand section

Videos

Capulin Volcano National Monument



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Last Updated: 28-May-2022