Tales From the Volcano

U.S. Geological Survey/photo by R.D. Miller

Rising above the flat grassland plains of Northeastern New Mexico, stands Capulin Volcano. This formation is relatively young at somewhere between 58,000 and 62,000 years old. It sports a well-defined crater about 400 feet deep and an irregular rim. It’s a rare example of a nearly perfectly shaped cinder cone, rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding flatlands.

When you think about volcanos, you likely picture one in the midst of eruption. Video of lava flows and molten magma are indeed fascinating to watch. However, extinct volcanos still have a lot to teach us. Scientists continue to expand their knowledge of our planet and its ecosystems by studying these long dormant structures. I believe volcanos, especially ones like Capulin, can teach us a lot about success.


You can stand out without being the biggest. At 8,182 feet, Capulin is by no means the largest volcano. Rising over 1,200 feet above the surrounding plains, it’s not even the tallest mountain in New Mexico. Yet, Capulin stands alone. It rises proudly from the flatlands rather than blending in with the peaks of the distant Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Because of its nearly perfectly shaped cone, and the lack of competing formations nearby, Capulin is a striking site to behold.


You can inspire without making a scene. You wouldn’t think a dormant volcano would have much to offer, yet standing at the top of Capulin Volcano, it’s easy to see why this is a popular tourist stop. Hiking trails along the rim, and even into the crater itself, include stops with information about the formation of volcanos and the history of the area. From the rim, the view stretches for miles in all directions, providing glimpses of wildlife and five states. The experience leaves you wanting to learn more and visit other natural wonders.


You can have an impact long after your work is done. Capulin last erupted 56,000 years ago, but it still has lessons to share. The lava flows are still evident, providing volcanologists with valuable data about how volcanos form. The distinct geology made Capulin a base for the training of Apollo 16‘s astronauts. Over 30 species of mammals have been recorded in the region, using the lava fields as a primary habit or foraging ground. And comments from visitors routinely make note of the unexpected thrill of visiting the location, designated a National Monument in 1916.

So much of life, including work, is a matter of perspective. Though I may feel small at times, in many ways I am unique. My work, though it might seem dull and routine to me, may create fascinating opportunities for others. The actions I take today, will ripple through time; impacting people I’ll never know.