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Day 3: Capulin Volcano National Monument and the Great Sand Dunes (Barely)

We left Texas this morning on our first real sightseeing day. There have been wildfires along our planned route, so we were up early to check the status of the Spring Creek fire. It looked like the road we needed to take would be open, so we headed out on our pre-planned route. Going that way, we were able to see Capulin Volcano National Monument along the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. But, wildfires are unpredictable and our gamble over the routing didn't pay off.

Capulin Volcano
(Official Site) New Mexico was once a very active volcanic region. Last year we visited El Malpais on our way to the Grand Canyon. Capulin is one of several extinct volcanos in northeastern New Mexico and is a classic example of a Cinder Cone Volcano. It last erupted about 56,000 years ago.

When we arrived, there was no wait to go to the top from the Visitor's Center, though we heard others being delayed up to 30 minutes due to limited parking at the top (which also keeps crowds on the trails under control). I took Cori and my nephew on a hike around the rim of the volcano. There were some spectacular views of the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field and of Capulin itself.

All of us but my mom also walked the short path to the volcano's eruptive center.

Back at the Visitor's Center, all three kids completed their Junior Ranger books and were sworn in as honorary Junior Rangers. We love this program and try to do it at every park we visit. We all learn quite a bit from the activities the kids complete and it provides a nice focus for the visit. Plus, the badges are really cool. I think our girls have 8 badges each so far and we will add a whole lot more on this trip.
Working on the Junior Ranger book.
Badges in hand!

Spring Creek Wildfire
We left Capulin on time and headed toward I-25 to go north into Colorado. Everything looked on track for us to intersect US160 and head directly west toward Alamosa and the Great Sand Dunes. But as it sometimes goes with the best-laid plans, just past the US160-Hwy 12 intersection, about one hour out from the Great Sand Dunes, we were stopped and turned around. The wildfire had been whipped up by winds and high heat and was coming close to the Highway somewhere around La Veta Pass.

Location where we were turned around and the location of the Spring Fire.

So, we had to go back, then north to Pueblo, CO, west to Poncha Springs and then finally south to the Great Sand Dunes. The added trip time was 4.5 hours. Oh, we were unhappy, very unhappy. But, I would rather drive the additional time than be swept up in a wildfire as it jumps the highway.

The long way around. That small gap in the square at the bottom is the distance
we had yet to go before we were stopped and turned around.

On top of the added time in the car, we were meeting an old, dear friend of mine at the Dunes that afternoon. Before the turnaround, we were on track to get there at about the same time. I hated telling her we would be 5 hours late.  Luckily, she is really laid back... and really loves me... so she went on a hike with her dog at Zapata Falls and just hung out until we arrived.

Great Sand Dunes
(Official Site): We arrived at our hotel, the Great Sand Dunes Lodge about 7:45, but at about 7:15 I got a text, then a call, from my friend Annie, who we were meeting. She was oh-so-on-top-of-things and had checked to see when the restaurant stops serving. They stop seating at 7:30! So, she got a menu, read us the options and then ordered (and paid for!!) our food. They are serious about closing early at that place, so we took the food to the lodge and ate on the patio behind the pool, overlooking the dunes as the sun set. The restaurant is the only place to eat within 25 miles of the dunes, so Annie really saved us.

To make up for lost visit time, Annie and I sat up until 1 o'clock in the morning catching up. That's really late for me. It showed in the selfies we (tried) to take at the end of the evening. (I cannot believe I'm posting these photos of myself)

Obviously, this trip is about celebrating my parents' anniversary and seeing a lot of and teaching our kids a lot about the beautiful country we call home. But, it's also a chance to catch up with some people we are very lucky to call friends. We don't see these people enough, so the opportunity to reconnect is priceless.

Tomorrow we will get to see the Dunes up close and catch up with some other friends!

« Yesterday: Day 2: West Across Texas - Tomorrow: Day 4, Great Sand Dunes »

All Posts From Our Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

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