We are finishing up our time in New Mexico by visiting the dormant Capulin volcano and Clayton Lake in the northeast corner of the state. We have been absolutely “enchanted” by New Mexico (we now know why it’s called the Land of Enchantment). This state is so diverse in both landscape and demographics. We’ve seen deserts, mountains, prairies, mesas, canyons, buttes, cactus, ponderosa pines, Indian reservations, caverns, volcanos, petroglyphs, pueblos, ruins, sinkholes and dinosaur tracks; coyote, roadrunners, mule deer, bear, wolves, owls, ground squirrels, wild donkeys, pronghorns, an eagle and endless types of cattle. All of this in one state!
The people we’ve met have been very pleasant and so interesting. People with some or all Native American heritage make up roughy 20% of the population of New Mexico and we’ve had the honor of speaking with several. They strike us as a friendly, proud people, very easy to engage with and very in tune with their heritage. We’ve also read a lot about the conflicts between the Indians and Europeans during the 1800’s and how horribly the westward expansion was carried out. “White privilege” is not a new phenomenon.
In New Mexico, we built houses and met new friends Judy and Vern from Vermont. They were a great team to work with, lots of fun and interesting to spend time with. We hope that we can meet up on the road in the future! We reconnected with Aunt Diane and Bosha, visited the pow wow, went to a flamenco show, ate some great food and thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality. We also had a visit from Maureen Donahue, whom we hadn’t seen in a very long time. Together we visited the Acoma Pueblo, explored Old Town Albuquerque, Madrid and Santa Fe and enjoyed a couple of margaritas. In New Mexico, we met the man with the best barbecue (and best story) in the country, “Mad Jack,” and lots of others who’ve made this journey so special!
We’ve visited three volcanos in New Mexico and, as a final stop in the state, Capulin volcano was mildly interesting compared to the others. We drove up to the edge of the crater and walked along the rim. The view of the surrounding area from the top was beautiful; the crater itself was a large hole with lots of shrubbery growing in it. If you have an America the Beautiful pass and are driving by it’s worth a quick stop, but we wouldn’t be able to justify the $20 per car fee if you don’t have the pass.
Clayton Lake State Park, on the other hand, has more than proven itself worth the drive! The park is located about a two hour drive from the closest cities, Santa Fe, NM, and Amarillo, TX. It is 12 miles from the town of Clayton on a long road through prairie land that looked as if it would disappear into the horizon. We are truly in the middle of nowhere! We saw only a couple of homesteads on that 12 mile road. We arrived a day earlier than our reservation and had to find a dry camping spot for the night. This spot turned out to be the ultimate site!!! We are parked just a few feet from the rock ledge that drops down to the lake. In the morning and evening, when the lake is as smooth as glass, we see loads of fish rising to snatch the bugs out of the air.
Clayton Lake is well-known for trophy fishing in these parts, having produced the state’s largest bass, trout, walleye and catfish. The 16 pound record walleye is mounted and displayed in the visitor center, but the record catfish caught here was a whopping 26 pounds! Fishing is allowed in all seasons except winter, when the lake becomes an important migratory area for bald eagles and other birds.
There are dozens of swallows that dodge and weave through the sky right off the ledge outside our door. Our second morning here, shortly after sunrise and continuing for a couple of hours, we noticed a large gathering of the swallows chaotically flying over the cliff. Eventually, we discovered the reason: they are cliff swallows and they had nested under the overhang of the cliff. They did this in large numbers in the morning and again before sunset, the rest of the day they continued in smaller numbers. They would fly under the ledge, somehow cling to the side of the rock wall and tend the nests, which we could not see because they were so well tucked into the crevice. The park ranger told us the nests are built of mud and look like condos. Birds would cling to the wall or fly around the wall waiting for a chance to get to their nests.
Another claim to fame of Clayton Lake is it’s dinosaur tracks. In the early 1900’s, a dam was constructed to create Clayton Lake. Rock was blasted away to make a spillway, and for a couple of decades that spillway filled with water and drained. After years of rinsing, someone noticed what looked like footprints in the exposed rock. Archaeologists confirmed several hundred dinosaur footprints and proceeded to protect the area. They have confirmed that the tracks were made during the Cretaceous period, when much of the west was covered by water. The direction of the tracks here lead scientists to believe that this was possibly the water’s edge, and the tracks mostly leading in one direction point toward this being a “dinosaur highway,” a heavily traveled route to some other destination. The majority of tracks are from an herbivorous Iguanodon, but there are also a few prints left by carnivorous Coelophysis (pronounced “see-low-FY-sis”) and phytosaurs (early crocodiles). You can even see the fossilized remnants of sand worms.
The beauty and history of Clayton Lake captivated us the moment we parked. Being several miles from town with no cell service or WiFi, we were content to pull out our lawn chairs, read, play solitaire or parcheesi and just RELAX. We quickly realized that we have not really done an awful lot of relaxing on this trip as there’s been so many places to see and we’ve been driving almost every day. It was perfect timing for us to just slow down and take in the beauty of nature.