A Scenic Drive around the Lincoln Loop

An enjoyable way to see many of the sights of the area while staying in Ruidoso is on a 1- or 2-day 162-mile loop tour. Heading east from Ruidoso on US 70, about 18 miles past Ruidoso Downs, is the small community of San Patricio, where you'll find (watch for signs) the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery (tel. 575/653-4331; www.wyethartists.com). Late artist Peter Hurd, a Roswell native, flunked out of West Point before studying with artist N. C. Wyeth and marrying Wyeth's daughter, Henriette, eventually returning with her to New Mexico. This gallery shows and sells works by Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth, their son Michael Hurd, Andrew Wyeth, and N. C. Wyeth. Many of the works capture the ambience of the landscape in the San Patricio area. In addition to original works, signed reproductions are available. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Several rooms and guesthouses are also available by the night or for longer periods.

From San Patricio, continue east on US 70 for 4 miles to the community of Hondo, at the confluence of the Rio Hondo and Rio Bonito, and turn west onto US 380. From here, it's about 10 miles to Lincoln, a fascinating little town that is also a National Historic Landmark. From Lincoln, continue west on US 380 about a dozen miles to Capitan and Smokey Bear Historical Park, 118 Smokey Bear Blvd. (tel. 575/354-2748; www.smokeybearpark.com), open daily from 9am to 5pm. Smokey, the national symbol of forest fire prevention, was born near here and found as an orphaned cub by firefighters in the early 1950s. Admission to this park is $2 for adults, $1 for children age 7 to 12, and free for children 6 and under. The park has exhibits on Smokey's rescue and life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; fire prevention; and forest health. Visitors can also stop at Smokey's grave and explore a nature path that represents six vegetation zones of the area. If you'd like to stay in Capitan, check out Capitan Cabins, 321 3rd St. (tel. 575/354-6010; www.capitancabins.com), which has well-appointed cabins on one of the town's back streets.

Heading west from Capitan about 20 miles takes you to Carrizozo, the Lincoln County seat since 1912. One of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the Southwest can be found at the Outpost (tel. 575/648-9994), 415 Central Ave. They're served in a basket, with fries if you'd like. Inside this dark, cool bar/restaurant, you'll find cowboys and farmers chowing under the gaze of bison and deer heads. From there, take 2nd Street east to 12th Street, where a few galleries have opened up. Also of note is the Carrizozo Heritage Museum, 103 12th St. (tel. 575/648-1105). It features displays on the history of this small railroad town and Lincoln County. The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 2pm.

Continue west on US 380 for 4 miles to Valley of Fires Recreation Area (tel. 575/648-2241), where you'll find what is considered one of the youngest and best-preserved lava fields in the United States. Among the black lava formations is a .8-mile self-guided nature trail, which is well worth the walk. Part of it is wheelchair accessible. You'll discover a strange new landscape that at first glance appears inhospitable but really is rich with plant life and wildlife. Be sure to walk far enough to see the 400-year-old juniper wringing itself from the black stone. A small visitor center and bookstore is in the park campground. Admission is $3 per person or $5 per car for day use, and camping costs $7 to $18. The park is open year-round.

To continue the loop tour, return 4 miles to Carrizozo, turn south onto US 54, and go about 28 miles to the turnoff to Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Area (tel. 575/525-4300), about 5 miles east on a paved road. Some 20,000 individual rock art images are here, carved by Mogollon peoples who lived in the area centuries ago. A trail about .8 mile long links many of the most interesting petroglyphs; and the view surrounding the area, with mountains to the east and White Sands to the southwest, is outstanding. The park also includes the partially excavated ruins of an ancient Native American village, including a multiroom adobe building, pit house, and masonry house that have been partially reconstructed. Administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the park has facilities for picnicking and camping. The day use fee is $2 per vehicle. Overnight camping is $10. The U.S. Forest Service also has a campground in the area, about 5 miles east via a gravel road.

From the recreation area, return 5 miles to US 54 and continue south about 15 miles to Tularosa Vineyards (tel. 575/585-2260; www.tularosavineyards.com), which offers tours daily from noon until 5pm. Tastings by appointment. Using all New Mexico grapes, the winery is especially known for its award-winning reds. Wines can be purchased by the bottle, with prices ranging from $8 to $25. (Note: A fun pastime while traveling in this area is to read Tularosa by Michael McGarrity. Set in the Tularosa Basin, it's a thrilling mystery about the White Sands Missile Range and Spanish gold.)

Continuing south from the winery, drive about 2 miles to Tularosa and turn east onto US 70, which you take for about 16 miles to the village of Mescalero on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. From US 70, take the exit for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and follow the signs to the imposing St. Joseph's Apache Mission. After you return to US 70, it's about 19 miles back to Ruidoso.

No Scum Allowed -- In the "ghost town" of White Oaks, the No Scum Allowed Saloon (tel. 505/648-5583) sits in an atmospheric 1880s brick building, with signed dollar bills plastered to the ceiling and vintage license plates nailed all over the walls. While there, ask the owner, Tony Marsh, how he got the place. You're in for many laughs. On NM 349 near Carrizozo, it's well worth a stop to have refreshments and see the art town of White Oaks. Open most weekends.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.