|Across the valley to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains|
Road trips are not my favorite way to travel, so why do I go on them? Generally I use this mode because I can’t see something I’m interested in any other way. One really good reason is to gain an appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us. Someone, and I can’t remember who, said that if you’ve never seen something you can’t appreciate it, and if you can’t appreciate it you won’t be moved to take care of it, and finally if you don’t take care of it, it may be gone forever. This is particularly true of the natural world. I spent a lot of years teaching about the ecology and geology of our country and I never saw a student who wasn’t moved to become a better steward of the land and perhaps inspire his/her students and family to become stewards, as well.
In 1981 I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time. On the way there, we stopped at several other National Parks. These are the gems of the US and should continue to be treated as such.
“The National Park Service invites you to find your park! In celebration of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, we are launching a movement to spread the word about the amazing places we manage, the inspirational stories that the national parks tell, our country's natural resources, and our diverse cultural heritage.”
~ National Park Service
So how is going on an extended road trip different than hopping on a plane and ending up
|Crossing the Red River|
|Stream through a valley|
For folks traveling without children, the best times to visit National Parks or Monuments are before school is out for the year or just after it begins. This does not mean the parks will not be crowded, they just won’t be as crowded. In planning this trip I found that making reservations to stay in the parks isn’t as easy as it once was. I began looking for places to stay in February, quickly discovering that the only five days I could string together in Yellowstone was late July. From there I booked all the rest of our hotels; choices in certain towns were limited, as well.
Another limitation I found was in the restriction we placed on our daily drive time. I try not to spend more than an eight-hour day (including a lunch break) traveling. At the end of the day I
want to have time
for a good meal, perhaps a bit of sightseeing, a hot shower, and 30 minutes
to an hour reflecting on what I saw and did that day. I also don’t want to be
so tired that the next morning I’m not looking forward to the adventures that
are waiting around that next curve in the road. This was an issue particularly
in West Texas and in eastern Wyoming. While we could find hotels in small
towns, finding food was problematic. In some towns you could only get food at a
convenience store; in other places there were fast food restaurants; in some
small towns there were ‘real’ restaurants. And although some towns had
restaurants, many of these eateries were not open after 7:00PM or on Sundays. I
do take water in the car, but very few snacks and very few soft drinks. We stop
for lunch and dinner, but rarely for a snack. The last thing I need is to sit
and eat all day; calories in soft drinks and snacks aren’t burned off in a 10
minute driving break.
|Rabbit Ears in the distance|
We left early in the morning from the DFW area and headed west on US 287 toward
Amarillo. The oak and mesquite trees gave way
to the West Texas plains as we ascended the cap rock. Once on top, what trees
we did see were in lines marking old fence rows. However, this is one of the
only times the roadsides and pastures were green with water still in ponds and
creeks. While the towns along US 287 are larger than they were in 1982, the spaces
in between don’t look much different. Of course we took the shortcut from near
Amarillo along Ranch Road 1061 to US 385/87 on our way to Clayton. Usually this
is where we begin to see cholla, but because of all the spring rains the
grasses are so high that these cacti are hidden. The grasses are also covering
the red Jurassic sands of the high plains and the grey-green sages that usually
dominate this land. By the end of the first day we were all tired and cranky.
It seems that it’s harder to sit than to do anything else. The drive from the
DFW area to Clayton, New Mexico, while not hard goes on forever! We
ran into rain and wind just outside of Texline and nearly were blown off the
road. For about 10 minutes we could hardly see 50 feet, then it was fairly
clear and sunny: the most excitement we had on this day.
|Jurassic red beds|
Clayton is a tiny town just across the Texas-New Mexico border. Established in 1887, it was the route traders and homesteaders followed along the Santa Fe Trail that passed through
The town has been a livestock shipping center for cattle from the Pecos River
and the Texas Panhandle for decades. It’s also the gateway to the first
national park, actually a national monument, we visited. The 59 miles between
Clayton and Capulin National Monument let you enter into a unique volcanic region on the
US mainland. This New Mexican area is one of the only places in the US where
you can see the remnants of all three kinds of volcanoes: shield, composite and
cinder cones. Capulin Volcano is an extinct, symmetrical cinder cone that’s
between 58,000 and 62,000 years old. This National Monument was designated as
such on August 9, 1916. Our first stop was the visitor and as we expected, this
area was lovely. The ranger working the desk had lots of information for
visitors, and particularly for children. There were two levels of activities
she presented; one activity was for later elementary through middle school
level kids, while the other one was
for younger children. She made it sound
like such fun that I wished we’d had some youngsters with us. Near the visitor
center is the nature walk; the stops had informational cards that told about
the plants and the rocks, including the small lava squeeze-up. It’s well worth
taking the time to go around. Also the small museum is worth a quick look. From
here we headed up the road to the crater rim. From the top of Capulin you can
see the four lava flows. These are easily recognized because of the vegetation
that grows on them. One type of lava supports mostly grasses; the other can
support tree growth. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, there is a mile stroll
around the top or a one mile round trip hike into the crater and back. With all
the rain, it’s not only green, but the critters are more likely to be seen. We
did see deer, but neither the foxes nor the rattlesnakes.
|Raton-Capulin volcanic flows|
For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Reviews of Road Trip to Yellowstone’.
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