Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracks, Raton and the K-T Boundary (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 13 Nov 2023

Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracks, Raton and the K-T Boundary

[Clayton Lake dinosaur tracks] We've been taking some little 2- and 3-day trips to explore parts of New Mexico we haven't seen much. Last week, we visited Clayton and Raton, in the northeast corner of the state.

We'd been through Wagon Mound and Raton before but hadn't stopped. We'd never been to Clayton. Our goals were to see the dinosaur tracks at Clayton Lake, to try to find the Folsom site or the museum in Folsom, and to see what else the area had to offer. You don't know 'til you go.

Wagon Mound

[Wagon Mound, a rock formation in northeastern NM] Our first stop was at Wagon Mound. It's apparently the first big rocks travelers on the Santa Fe Trail saw, an indication that they were getting close to the Rockies and Santa Fe. It's named that because the rock formation looks a little like a team pulling a covered wagon.

The town is a bit shabby, but has a lot of interesting looking buildings. There's not much in the way of restaurants or shops. We found the best view of the eponymous rock from the town cemetery.

Clayton Lake

The lake itself isn't terribly scenic, at least in fall. It's surrounded by fairly barren looking grassland.

[Clayton Lake Dinosaur Trackway from above] The trail to the Dinosaur Trackway leads across the dam to a viewing station where you can look down on the tracks. It's an impressive collection of tracks, from at least three different species, mostly large three-toed iguanodons and smaller theropods (but the signs there at the site don't go into much detail on actual species names; maybe they don't know). Some interesting behavior shows up in the tracks, like an impression from a trail drag, which is apparently rare because mostly these dinosaurs kept their tails up while they walked or ran.

[a fun building in Clayton NM with a dragon embedded in it] The town of Clayton is a little run down, like so many New Mexican small towns, but it does have a few fun things to look at. We had an excellent dinner at the Wild Horse Grill.

Capulin Volcano

[pronghorn crossing the road approaching Capulin volcano] The next day we headed out toward Capulin Volcano, a national park that includes a road all the way up to the top. We had to stop once for a small herd of pronghorn crossing the road in front of us.

The drive up is unnerving, with mostly no guard rail between you and the long drop. If that wasn't enough, we had to stop briefly for a road construction area where the outer half of the road had apparently collapsed.

Partway up, we stopped at a pullout to admire the view and chat with the Artist in Residence, who was sketching the view.

The view from the top is spectacular. We hiked the short trail down into the crater, then about half of the trail going up around the rim before the icy wind inspired Dave to suggest turning around. The views were well worth the wind. We returned to the visitor center and hiked one of the lower trails, which was pleasant and not so windy.

Striking Out at Folsom

After Capulin, we headed west through Folsom. This is where George McJunkin, a self educated and very observant cowboy and ex-slave, discovered a collection of large bones and spear points. It took him over a decade to get anyone in the paleontological community to pay attention and take a look at the site, but when they finally did, the finds at the site completely changed archaeology. The bones were from Bison antiquus, a much larger Pleistocene ancestor of the current American bison, giving evidence of human occupation as early as 11,000 BC, where the "common wisdom" had been that humans had arrived no earlier than 1,000 BC. The site was a box canyon where early humans had chased the bison into a trap.

Alas, the little museum in Folsom is only open in summer, and you can't get to the site without crossing ranch roads through private property, even though the site itself is a state monument. So no luck there.

K-T Serendipity at Raton

Our destination that night was Raton, a town we'd passed through several times without ever having time to stop and explore.

[Angels at the Climax Canyon trailhead] We arrived with about an hour to kill before check-in time at our motel, so we did some driving around the town. I noticed a sign for the Climax Canyon Nature Trail, so we headed that way, and found an excellent trail system with a good map and informative kiosk at the trailhead.

My eye was immediately drawn to something on the map, a bit away from the actual trail. "K-T Boundary site? As in Cretaceous-Tertiary?" Sure enough: it turns out Raton is where they first identified the iridium layer, indicating the meteorite that (probably) killed the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous, in non-marine rock, indicating that the iridium came from a meteorite and not from an ocean source. I had no idea! I also hadn't known that it was a team from LANL.

We put the K-T on the back burner and headed out on the nature trail. It's an excellent hike, with options for shorter or longer loops, all providing a mix of terrains and a wealth of gorgeous views. They also had a collection of large wooden angels distributed around the hillsides. Apparently Raton is planning some sort of Christmas show.

After the hike, we checked in at our hotel, the very pleasant and friendly Raton Pass Motor Inn. It's nice to visit locally owned, non-chain hotels. This one had great reviews and I can see why. The room was spacious and clean, and the staff were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.

Also, this is the only motel where I've stayed that does wi-fi right. The security is WPA, so you don't have to worry about man-in-the-middle attacks like at most motels, and there's no stupid web portal making you sign in over and over. I have no idea why most hotels do it that way, with no security and maximum pointless annoyance factor, but Raton Pass gives you a properly secure connection. They also provided two USB charge plugs on the nightstand. A+ for techno-travelers! (And no, I'm not getting a discount or anything for writing this.)

We mentioned while checking in that we wanted to see the K-T Boundary, and they told us that the road was gated and we should stop by city hall before 5pm to get the gate combination.

After unloading our luggage, we rushed over to city hall, arriving around 3 pm to find all the doors locked. Close inspection of the posted hours gave the answer: they were closed for Veterans' Day. And they weren't open Saturday either. Sigh.

According to the map, though, the site wasn't far at all beyond that gate. The next morning, we headed up Goat Hill, the unassuming name for the little hill on which the city displays a RATON sign, a flag, and a star, all of which light up at night. It's also a great place to get a view of the town and its surroundings from above.

[K-T Boundary site at Raton, with sign IRIDIUM LAYER] The sign on the gate said Permit Required but it didn't say This Means You or No Hiking, so we walked up the road to the K-T site.

It's easy to identify by the big IRIDIUM LAYER sign. We took a look there then followed the layer around; the white layer is actually a little easier to see in a wash a little to the right of the sign.


We admired the views of the town, enshrouded in what I assume was an unusual fog layer, then headed home.

We took the scenic route over the mountains via Mora and got a look at some of the fire damage from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon fires last year. It looked like the fire didn't reach the town of Mora, but you could see the burned areas up in the hills. Some of the towns farther west had burn scars all the way up to the edge of town.

A few more photos from the trip (and larger versions of the photos here): Photos: Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracks, Raton and the K-T Boundary.

Tags: , ,
[ 18:30 Nov 13, 2023    More travel | permalink to this entry | ]

Comments via Disqus:

blog comments powered by Disqus