Friday Favorites: Capulin Volcano in New Mexico

If you read the blog often, you will know that the writers at bighorntravelblog love New Mexico. This view from the summit is just fabulous. It’s one of my favorites.

You can read more about Capulin Volcano here:

https://bighorntravelblog.com/2017/07/09/sunday-hikes-the-trails-of-capulin-volcano-national-momument/

and here:

https://bighorntravelblog.com/2017/07/04/picture-of-the-day-wildflowers-on-top-of-capulin-volcano/

Sunday Hikes: Sandia Cave Trail

Just east of Albuquerque sit the Sandia Mountains, rising up to twice the height of the city. Every time I have visited Albuquerque I have wanted to go and explore the mountains and on our last trip to New Mexico I finally got to! We entered the Sandia Mountains area going south on 165 which is a dirt 4wd road halfway through the mountains before turning to a paved highway by Sandia Crest (the tallest point in the range). Somewhere along the road we found a small parking lot for the Sandia Cave Trail and decided to check it out! 


The trail was pretty short but gained a good bit of elevation for being less than a mile long. At the end of the trail we came to a small spiral staircase on the side of a cliff that took us up to the cave. The stairs didn’t really feel safe but we didn’t die so I guess they were a little safe. 


At the top of the stairs there is probably ten feet before you hit a waist high brick wall that we climbed over to get into the cave. We didn’t expect to go crawl in the cave so we only had one head lamp and our phone lights with us but thanks to some firefighters at the entrance we were encouraged to go check it out. The cave is very dry and extremely dusty but is a nice cool escape from the New Mexico heat. The end of the cave was probably half of a mile tops from the entrance and we crawled on our bellies or hands and knees most of the way. After crawling to the end and back we emerged looking like Oompa Loompas from all the orange dirt and dust in the cave. We headed back to the Jeep and continued on with our day covered in orange dirt! 


Despite the trail being nothing this hike is really cool and unique compared to any other trails I’ve done. This is the only easily accessible cave I know of in a national forest that is so unregulated. There wasn’t a single warning sign about cave ins or all the dust you will inhale in the cave. I would recommend this trail to anyone unless your claustrophobic and I want to do it again already! 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes:  The Trails of Capulin Volcano National Momument

There are 5 trails at the Capulin Volcano National Monument in the northeast corner of New Mexico.  Josh and I had arrived into the area later than we expected due to losing a serpentine belt in nearby Clayton NM.  The National Monument had closed but you could still drive in to the visitor center area.  We decided that we would knock out one trail before dinner (we camped nearby) and then come back in the morning.

We decided to do the Lava Flow Trail which is an easy one mile loop plus an overlook.  The lava fields here meet with the prairie and are overgrown with grass and rich with wildlife.  We saw rabbits and turkeys on this quick loop.  Josh took advantage of the opportunity to climb some lava rocks as well.


The Lava Flow Trail

To the Sierra Grande Overlook 


Josh taking wildlife pictures 


Josh climbing lava rocks 


Close up view of lava rocks

After dinner and we hoped some stars (but we slept too hard to get up to see them), we woke early.  The sun was already rising and we returned to the National Monument to complete the hikes.   We quickly knocked out the Nature Trail which was designed for kids and departed for the Boca Trail.  It’s trailhead was located near the picnic area headed up the road towards the summit of the volcano.  The Boca trail was a 2 mile loop that was mostly well marked.  It passed a couple of collapsed lava tubes, an overlook, and an abandoned rock fireplace.  We saw deer everywhere and greatly enjoyed the trail.  


The Boca Trailhead


Collapsed lava tube 


Are we watching the deer or are they watching us?


Not sure the backstory of this rock fireplace along the Boca Trail

After returning to the trailhead, it was about 715am and the road to the top of the volcano (which is where the remaining trailhead are located) was closed until 830am.  We decided since we were partially up the summit road we would continue up the road to the top.  After what I estimated at 1.5 miles we finally came to the summit.  The Crater Rim trailhead is here.  It is a 1 mile loop around the crater at the top of the cinder cone.  The magnificent views from up here were visible for 360 degrees around you.  The wind was blowing heavily and the sun shining brightly and bathing us in its warmth.  The .2 mile Crater Vent Trail to us to the bottom of the crater where the lava chute was filled with lava rocks and according to the many signs, rattlesnakes.


The Crater Rim Trail


Trail Map


View from the summit of Capulin Volcano


View of Little Capulin cinder cone from the summit of Capulin Volcano 

As we began our descent, cars started to arrive up the road as it had finally opened.  Going down the road was much quicker and easier and we were at the bottom where our jeep was parked at the visitor center.  We had completed approx 7.2 miles hiking and greatly enjoyed our time at Capulin Volcano.  I encourage you to visit as well.  rk

Primitive Roads and Lava Tubes in New Mexico

Josh and I woke up refreshed at the Joe Skeen Campground in El Malpais National Monument.   It had been a long day of hiking and driving the day before.   We decided that we would like to go down to see the La Ventana Natural Arch then follow the Chain of Craters National Backcountry Byway and hike in and around the lava tubes.

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La Ventana Natural Arch – the largest in New Mexico

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About to head down the Chain of Craters National Backcountry Byway

The Chain of Craters National Backcountry Byway, also known as CR-42, runs through the southern portion of El Malpais past a series of extinct cinder cone volcanoes, and leads to the Big Tubes Area where we wanted to hike.   I was a little disappointed in that the road was not as rough as the signs indicated.   I suppose after a good rain it may have been more difficult to traverse.   The highlight of this drive was a herd of pronghorn antelope that ran parallel to us for several minutes down the bumpy dirt road.

After we arrived at the turnoff to go to the Big Tubes Area, the road (Big Tubes Road) did get much more rough and would not be passable without a 4 wheel drive (which we enjoyed immensely).   After parking at the Big Tubes trailhead.   We followed the rock cairns for a 1/3 mile or so and came upon the collapsed lava tubes.   These were much larger than I anticipated.    During one stretch, the “trail” goes over a small arch (called Lava Bridge) with collapsed tube on either side which was disconcerting to cross.

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The “trail” to the Big Tubes Area

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Big Skylight Cave

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Big Skylight Cave (closer up)

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Lava Bridge

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Our shadows reflected in the opening of Surface Tube

The series of trails seemed difficult to follow in this area, so we ended up just exploring and climbing the lava rocks.   This was as fun as it sounds.   After we got back to the jeep and headed back towards CR-42, we realized that the other side of the Big Tubes Road was much more passable.   Despite the signage we determined that as long as the weather was dry, a 2 wheel drive car could probably get back here safely.   I would recommend coming from the north off of Hwy 53 to get here though.

El Malpais is one of our favorite places in New Mexico.   If you are in the area, make time to visit and enjoy this area.   rk

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You can tell the sun was bright when this picture was taken

 

Picture of the Day:  Wildflowers on top of Capulin Volcano

The view from the summit of the extinct cinder cone, Capulin Volcano, with blooming wildflowers in the foreground.  Capulin Volcano National Monument is located in northeast New Mexico.  rk

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a park that I didn’t know too much about going into it. I knew it was a really big cave in New Mexico (my favorite state) and that was about it. So when myself, my sister, and our friend woke up and left our campsite in Guadalupe Mountains National Park and drove about 45 minutes to Carlsbad Caverns (stopping at Mckittrick Canyon on the way). The park road travels about 7 miles from the entrance at White’s City to the Visitors Center. We parked our car and briefly looked around the visitors center before getting in line to get our tickets to go in the cave. We decided to take the elevator in and take the natural cave entrance the next day so we showed the ranger our park pass and she gave us a green ticket and pointed us towards the elevators. Here a ranger explained all the things we aren’t supposed to do in the caves and then opened up the elevators for us. The elevator quickly drops you 750 feet straight down into the Caverns below. Where most elevators have a light indicating the floor you’re on this one told you how many feet you were going down starting with 750 and ending at 0. Once exiting the cave it felt somewhat eerie because there was no one we could see or hear and their weren’t any employees around either. So we looked at the snack bar and souvenir table and went to follow the self guided tour. This is where it got really cool. The cave is lit and the path follows a loop around some of the caves most famous features. The size of the rooms (particularly Big Room making up 8.2 acres) is amazing and the stalactites drip down from the ceiling with the stalagmites ready to catch them.


 We passed the many impressive rock formations such as the Temple of the Sun, the Bottomless Pit, and the Rock of Ages. When we sadly reached the end of our self guided tour we took the elevator back up and further checked out the visitors center and then drove to our campground for the night and played some poker and then had dinner and a campfire before calling it a day and heading to bed. This night was the coldest of our entire two week trip and when we woke up there was ice on the tent and on my hat and sleeping bag. We checked the temperature and it was a chilly 14F so we headed straight for the free hot showers at our campground. We packed up our tent quickly and hopped in the car. With the heat blasting we headed back towards the cave that we knew was a constant 52F and stopped at a pull off featuring an alcove in a cliff with some petroglyphs and picnic tables to make breakfast of peanut butter bread with granola and honey as well as some coffee because we can’t function without coffee. While making our breakfast it began to snow on us. We drove back up to the visitors center and as soon as we walked inside my glasses fogged up so bad that a park ranger gave me a tissue when she saw it. We got another green ticket and headed towards the natural cave entrance. We walked in the snow and through the auditorium that surround the entrance for viewing the bat flights (hundreds of thousands of bats exit the cave together every evening from April to October. We visited in Early January so unfortunately missed it). The cave entrance is quite large and the snow was sticking on the bushes around the entrance. The beginning of the trail in is long and steep switchbacks and eventually straightens out somewhat. We passed a bunch more signs telling us about various cave features as well as one that told us the dark void right in front of us was the bat cave. Not where Batman dwells but where all the bats were currently hanging out. The natural entrance is a lot of fun and took us about 1.5 hours to complete. After we reached the surface again it was still snowing and we decided to do the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, an 8ish miles dirt road that Takes you through the New Mexico desert. We did a short trail along the way that was not very well marked and hard to follow but still fun. After that we left Carlsbad Caverns National Park and head towards the town of Carlsbad for some late lunch of huevos rancheros. 

I had such a good time at Carlsbad Caverns and I would love to go back sometime to do some guided tours and hike some of their few trails above ground. If you have a chance to go to Carlsbad Caverns then you should 100% take it and I hope you had as fun of a time as we did. 

Thanks for reading! – Josh



90 foot ladder climbing down into the abyss. Used by Jim White and others to explore the second level of the cave. 

How to spend a day at El Malpais National Monument (better than I did)

El Malpais is located just south of I-40 near Grants, New Mexico.   It is a great spot to spend an afternoon or an entire day.    El Malpais is the site of an extinct volcano.   It is notable for its lava fields and lava tubes.   During my visit, I basically saw the sign off I-40 and pulled into the park and wandered around.  I had never heard of El Malpais before and didn’t realize that the park consists of two main roads that skirt the northern and eastern borders.   I only went down Hwy 117 which travels the eastern border.

Off of Hwy 117, there is an amazing overlook at Sandstone Bluffs where you can rock climb and view the lava fields stretch out before you.  We had a great time getting out of the car here (since we had been in the car from Georgia!) and spent about an hour climbing the rocks and enjoying the amazing panoramic views.  Farther down Hwy 117 is a La Ventana Natural Arch which is down a short and easy hiking trail.   There is also a peaceful picnic area near the arch.

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La Ventana Arch

What I didn’t realize is that some of the coolest parts of the park are only accessible from Hwy 53 which travels the parks northern boundary and connects to multiple unpaved roads to the west and south of the park.   On much of the unpaved area a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle may be your best bet, especially if it has rained recently.  The interior of the park is pretty much all lava field.

I would recommend when you visit to start on Hwy 53 and go straight to the Information Center to learn more about the park and to pick up a free caving permit.   You can drive/hike to the lava tubes and explore them.   Which tubes you visit will vary based upon your comfort level and experience, but Giant Ice Cave and Big Skylight Cave are the most visited.   Unfortunately, I missed the caving adventures but will plan to better on my next time in northern New Mexico.   After getting all the caving out of your system you can then go down Hwy 117 to see the sights there.

I hope that this information is helpful and that you are now better prepared for your trip to El Malpais.   Take care.

rk

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Tia B’s La Waffleria in Albuquerque NM

Tia B’s is a family favorite in Albuquerque.   We can’t pass through the area (like within 500 miles) without stopping to sample their delightful waffles.   Now you might be saying, what’s the big deal about waffles?    Well, let me tell you.   Tia B’s starts with 5 different made from scratch batters:   wheat/buttermilk, buckwheat/sour cream, rye/sour cream, multigrain/milk, and rice/coconut.   The base batter is used to make delightful and tasty combinations.   Some of our favorites include Waffle Rancheros, Sweet Goat Cheese & Port-Infused Cherries, Biscuits & Gravy, and Bacon & Egg.   No matter what you prefer, whether sweet or savory, Tia B’s has something to make your taste buds happy.   Check them out the next time you are within 500 miles of Albuquerque.   You’ll be glad you did.  Learn more at http://www.lawaffleriaabq.com/.

rk

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