New Mexico’s Clayton Lake State Park, just east of the Capulin Volcano, is well worth the visit south of state lines. But, I had very low expectations to start, thinking it’d just be a reservoir for boating and fishing. I must admit though, I was pleasantly surprised.
To start with, boating and fishing is offered at the 170 surface-acre lake. It’s considered a popular spot for such activities in the northeast part of the state. And I can’t say I blame anyone going there for such things. It’s a peaceful and quite state park off the beaten path that can offer quite a bit along these lines.
For me though, it was about the hiking and the history.
There’s one nature trail on the west side of the park that follows the south side of the lake going past ruins of a settler’s sheep ranch as well as some beautiful rock formations. There’s also opportunities for wildlife viewing. Unfortunately though, during our visit, we were not fortunate enough to see anything other than a large snake slither across the trail and up into a nearby tree.
The highlight of the visit for me was on the opposite side of the park anyway; just a short walk across the dam is a field of dinosaur tracks exposed after a flood cleared the area in 1982.
Over 100 million years ago the North American continent was split in two as the Gulf of Mexico extended up into Canada. This made New Mexico prime beach front property for the dinos in the area, both herbivores and carnivores. So as they roamed the area they left their footprints in the mud and clay in the area.
It is believed that at least eight different types of dinosaurs left over 500 prints including some made by the flying pterodactyl. On average the beasts were 15 feet tall and around 23 feet long; some even were as large as 30 feet according to a small display overlooking the main field of prints at the end of the dam.
A short boardwalk now surrounds a large sampling of the prints, making them more accessible as well as safe from damage. We were fortunate enough to see them a day after it rained, which helps pronounce the prints more than on dry days according to one of the park rangers. Really though, felt fortunate enough to see them regardless since I had no initial recollection that I had read about these when planning my trip south.
The area, many years after the dinosaurs became extinct, was also used for the Indian tribes in the area and as a stop for settlers heading west on the Santa Fe Trail. There’s a small display that talks about the history of the area in the visitor’s center, which is located near the entrance to the park. It’s worth a stop in to pay park fees and learn a little about the area from the very knowledgeable staff before heading out to enjoy this wonderful park.