After leaving Canyon and traveling north through Amarillo and Dumas, then west into New Mexico, we arrived at our next stop in the tiny village of Capulin, New Mexico. This is another place we had passed on many trips but never had time to investigate, so this year it was one of our specific destinations. Our RV park is small but very near Capulin National Monument so it is perfect for our needs. This extinct volcano, 60,000 years old, is a very “young” volcano; it has been part of our national park system since 1916, chosen because it is such a perfect example of a cinder cone style volcano. It is named for the Spanish word for the chokeberry which grows abundantly in the area. The area between Raton and Clayton, NM was once very active with 80,000 square miles of volcanic activity, spanning from 9 million years ago to about 30,000 years ago. There are numerous examples of shield, cone and composite volcanoes in the region, but Capulin is about the best preserved, due to the vegetation on its slopes which have kept it from eroding. After seeing this park, and combining it with what I learned at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, I could do a much better job teaching this aspect of geology to students now. It is one thing to learn from a book, but actually visiting volcanoes helps one understand about them much more fully. We hiked all around the rim of Capulin, which is at 8,182 feet above sea level. Since we live at about 600 feet, the air is thinner at Capulin, so the hike gave our lungs a good workout. We noticed lots of pinyon pine and juniper, several mule deer, some pretty little caterpillars munching on the vegetation, several eastern fence lizards, and tons of ladybugs, which migrate to the volcano and “summer” there during the summer months. Some of the people who were there were lucky enough to see a mama bear and her two cubs, but we did not. We also hiked down a steep path into the vent area of the volcano, and listened to two wonderful talks by the park rangers: about the geology of the region and another about the wagon trails, cattle drives, cowboys and outlaws of the area. Again, connections: we have stopped in the small town of Clayton, NM with our Harley group several times, and have eaten at the historic Ecklund Hotel there. One night the bartender shared the “claim to fame” for Clayton. He pointed to a couple old photographs in the bar: on the wall was a framed photograph of the train robber Black Jack Ketchum being fitted with a noose on a freshly carpentered scaffold. Another photograph showed him after the trapdoor had collapsed under his feet. The force of the gallows’ rope decapitated the outlaw. Well, when we heard the talk about outlaws, Black Jack Ketchum was one of those highlighted – turns out he was captured very close to Capulin, kept overnight in the Folsom Hotel, and was later tried and hanged in Clayton.
Following a picnic lunch at the park’s picnic area, we drove over to the small village of Folsom. This town used to be a major town for cattle stockyards during the late nineteenth century, since the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail was nearby, but after a devastating flood in 1908 destroyed much of the town and killed 17 residents, the town never regained its population or industry. Now is it almost a ghost town, but there is a small local historical museum we enjoyed. The main “claim to fame” of Fulton is that after the flood, a cattleman found large animal bones washed up due to the flood, and a few years later an archaeological dig discovered ancient projectile points. Together these discoveries turned the archaeological world upside down, and helped scientists adjust their beliefs about how long man has been in the New World. Where before the 1920s, it was taught that man had settled in North America only about two to four thousand years ago, it was determined, after the discovery of Folsom man projectile points, that civilization in what is now the USA began over 10,000 years ago. Of course, since then, more discoveries n other parts of the US have been made, pushing the beginning of civilization in what is now the US back even more. Now all those 4th grade TX history lessons I taught mean a lot more to me! The small history museum also had more photographs of Black Jack Ketchum – one after he’d been hanged. Somewhat gruesome but small towns have to grab attention somehow so tourists will come in. In fact, if you are interested in old legends and outlaws, go to http://www.legendsofamerica.com/HC-BlackJackKetchum2.html
for some more information. For information about the Folsom man, you can go to http://www.cyberwest.com/cw03/v3adwst2.html
. There is some information about Capulin Volcano on that site too, but I also liked this site: http://www.sangres.com/newmexico/national-parks/capulin/index.htm