Fort Sumner & Environs
The little town of Fort Sumner, home to 1,300 people, 84 miles north of Roswell via US 285 and NM 20, is important in New Mexico history because it's the site of Fort Sumner State Monument and the burial place of the notorious Billy the Kid. Stop by if you're in the vicinity and have some time to spare.
Fort Sumner State Monument (tel. 575/355-2573; www.nmmonuments.org) recalls a tragic U.S. Army experiment (1864-68) to create a self-sustaining agricultural colony for captive Navajos and Mescalero Apaches. Many still recall the "Long March," during which some Navajos walked a distance of more than 400 miles. By fall 1864, some 9,000 people were held captive here, site of the Bosque Redondo Reservation. Disaster followed: disease, blighted crops, alkaline water, Comanche raids, and the Navajos' devastating alienation from their homelands. Some 3,000 Native Americans died here. Part of the fort where the military lived and worked has been reconstructed at the site. A short walking tour takes you to various signposts that explain what was once on the land, illustrated with sad photographs of the dismal conditions. The visitor center (open daily 8:30am-5pm) gives you a good background before you head out to the site. The monument is 7 miles southeast of the modern town, via US 60/84 and NM 272. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children age 17 and under.
Nearby, the Old Fort Sumner Museum (tel. 575/355-2942) displays artifacts, pictures, and documents. It's a private enterprise that may not quite be worth the $3.50 admission.
Behind the museum (you don't have to go through the museum) is the Grave of Billy the Kid, its 6-foot tombstone engraved to "William H. Bonney, alias 'Billy the Kid,' died July 16, 1881," and to two previously slain comrades with whom he was buried. Also in the graveyard is the tomb of Lucien Maxwell, the land czar from the Cimarron area, who purchased Fort Sumner after the military abandoned it.
If you're curious about the notorious Kid, you can learn more at the Billy the Kid Museum (tel. 575/355-2380), 1 mile east of downtown Fort Sumner on US 60/84. In operation for over half a century, it contains more than 60,000 relics of the Old West, including some that recall the life of young Bonney himself, such as his rifle. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 62 and older, $3 for ages 7-15, free age 6 and under.
The Old Fort Days celebration, the second week of June, is Fort Sumner's big annual event. It includes the World's Richest Tombstone Race (inspired by the actual theft of Billy's tombstone, since recovered), 2 nights of rodeo, a country music show, a barbecue, and a parade.
Sumner Lake State Park (tel. 575/355-2541), 16 miles northwest of Fort Sumner via US 84 and NM 203, is a 1,000-acre property with a campground (with electric and water hookups). Boating, fishing, swimming, and water-skiing are popular recreations.
For more information on the town, contact the Fort Sumner Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 28, Fort Sumner, NM 88119 (tel. 575/355-7705; www.ftsumnerchamber.com).
Clovis, 110 miles northeast of Roswell via US 70, is a major market center on the Texas border. Founded in 1906 as a railway town, it is now the focus of an active ranching and farming region. The Lyceum Theatre, 409 Main St. (tel. 575/763-6085), is a significant restoration of a former vaudeville theater; it's now the city's center for performing arts. A major rodeo on the national circuit is held the first weekend in June. "Clovis Man," who hunted mammoths in this region about 10,000 B.C., was first discovered at a site near the city. For more information, contact the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce (tel. 575/763-3435; www.clovisnm.org).
Nineteen miles south of Clovis is Portales, a town of 12,500 people that is the home of the main campus of Eastern New Mexico University. On campus are the Roosevelt County Historical Museum (tel. 575/562-2592) of regional ranching history and the Natural History Museum (tel. 575/562-2723), with wildlife exhibits, including a bee colony. Anthropology and paleontology exhibits are at the Blackwater Draw Archaeological Site and Museum (tel. 575/562-2202), 7 miles northeast of Portales on US 70 toward Clovis. The museum isn't much, but the archaeological site draws bone buffs from around the world. Especially notable is the Interpretive Center, where visitors can watch an excavation in progress. The site is on NM 467, 5 miles north of US 70. For more information, contact the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce at tel. 575/356-8541 or www.portales.com.
For lodging in the Clovis/Portales area, try the La Quinta Inn, 4521 N. Prince, Clovis, NM 88101 (tel. 800/531-5900 or 575/763-8777; www.lq.com). Clovis is the site of the original restaurant of the K-Bob's Steakhouse chain. The restaurant is at 1600 Mabry Dr. (tel. 575/763-4443).
In Portales, stay at the Super 8 Motel, 1805 W. 2nd St. (tel. 800/800-8000 or 575/356-8518; www.super8.com). The Cattle Baron, 1600 S. Avenue D (tel. 575/356-5587), has good steaks and a nice salad bar.