New Mexico – Kiowa Grasslands

I had an opportunity for an impromptu three day weekend.

Thinking it would be nice to have Ms. A  join me, I looked for a place that was amenable to hiking, camping, and would be off the beaten path.

My usual methods were used to find such a place.  A specific place was found on the map. Further research made it to be a locals favorite that is lightly used.


As a general overview, I went to the Kiowa Grasslands of northeast New Mexico not far from the Colorado border.

If the light pollution map held true, it was a place I expected to be isolated and remote feeling.

It was.

I’ve been finding more and more of the wildness and remote feeling I crave in the High Plains.

And this place was no exception.

We drove through the sprawl of the Colorado Front Range, made it south past Pueblo and noticed the usual change once in the southern part of Colorado: More open space, less aggressive atmosphere, more remote feeling.

Soon we crossed into New Mexico proper and  eventually made our way east past small towns that have seen better days.

At one town, our turn was reached. We left the pavement and drove along the wide open spaces and reach a road that descended off the rim.

The road was narrow, twisty, rutted and somewhat rough. A slow going passenger car might be able to (just) get down the road. A 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance was something  I was thankful to be driving on this road.

On the way down, I joked that “I don’t know what I’ll do if another vehicle comes up the canyon .. “.

Sure enough, a vehicle did come up: A large flat-bed truck with little maneuverability.

Luckily, I had JUST enough room to pull over. The other vehicle was mere inches from my door.


After that interesting experience, the someone and I paused at an overlook.  The site below was a different world from above the rim.

A once prosperous orchard used to be in the valley below. Massive flooding ruined the orchard.  The area was left wild. Though there are jeep roads in various levels of usability, the lack of people makes the area seem more remote than many designated Wilderness Lands.

We made our way down the windy road.

Once a suitable campsite was found, we explored the ruins of the former home.  Even in ruins, the brickwork was impressive.

A fair amount of people were camped out Friday night in the area. But the weather was damp and cold and not many people stayed Saturday. I suspect most people only wanted a quick Friday night for camping. The area was pretty empty by mid-morning.

About that time when most people were leaving, the someone and I started to walk along the river. An old 4WD track would be followed. Red rocks abounded.

Some surviving remnants of the orchard days was even spotted.

We did see a handful of day trippers in trucks of even ATVs. Based on one conversation, we think everyone was local to the northeast New Mexico area.

We forded many shallow streams. With each stream ford, the evidence of people going up the river valley was less and less.

We continued to be impressed by the Utah-like scenery.

The shallow river would be our companion for most of the day.

A portion of the canyon was reached where the land, at least according to the map, would become more wide open. And private land would be spotted and crossed.

Good place as any to turn around. But I was still curious.

The land was indeed wider.  Access to the rim above was less steep.

The steps were retraced for a bit.

At one point we took a slightly different way back. The canyon wall would be seen a bit more up close.

We made it back to camp. As far as I could tell, there was only another party of three people in the canyon. The few day trippers have left. Only the distant and low voices of a few others indicated any people were left in the canyon beside us.

Canadian geese could be heard flying along the river. Raptors were heard in the distance. The night sky came out. It was brilliant. The water rushing by below and the slight wind in the trees were the other major accompaniments to the night sky.

This area is accessible to 4WD traffic. And there are no trails…only the rough, old and sometimes narrow jeep tracts in places.

Yet this area felt far more remote and wild than the mountains near Boulder.

Does a wilderness designation make a place truly wild? Or is it something more that is needed?

I know the answer for me anyway.

Sunday morning, we went back up the road. The last look was had below.  In the early morning light, the red color of the rocks was very prominent.

We decided to spend some more time in the area. Capulin Volcano National Monument was visited.

Not far from the interstate, and the Colorado border, it was a place we could not pass up.

At 60,000 years old, Capulin is young for a dormant volcano.  From above, Capulin looks aesthetically pleasing.

Capulin 1980 tde00005.jpg

From Wikipedia

After checking in at the small visitors center, we made our way up the road. We hiked the one-mile rim rail.

The views were exquisite.

The Raton-Clayton volcanic field could really be seen. And the Rockies weren’t too far in the distance.

A perfect and clear day to be on this volcano.

At one point, we could see clearly into the heart of the volcano crater. Lava remnants abounded.

We followed a short spur into the crater itself.

We drove down the road a bit, had lunch and hiked an actual trail (versus a paved path).

A great walk that really let us see some interesting formations and spot other volcanic activity in the distance much older than Capulin.

Edge of Capulin’s lava field. Looking out to other, much older, volcanoes.

We soon made our way back home. The congestion of the Front Range was reached.

And I am already missing the quiet, solitude and peace of that part of the world I just visited.

All the photos… 

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Jason Mac
Jason Mac
8 years ago

Paul, Thanks for this trip report. I love that wide open and ancient land. 26 years ago I would to drive through this country in my 1966 VW Bug often holding onto the steering wheel for dear life because of the near constant wind from the west. I still remember the rich caliente taste of the best green chili hamburgers I’ve ever had in small cafes that dot the roadsides and near forgotten villages.

Devin Quince
Devin Quince
8 years ago

Reminds me of when we hike across and old volcano in Hawaii.

8 years ago

“Does a wilderness designation make a place truly wild?”

I wonder if this place would change for the worse if it was a designated Wilderness? Awesome looking place, thanks for the report.