Central New Mexico

We dropped south out of the City of Rocks into Deming, NM and shot east across the Tularosa Valley where White Sands is located. This was the same path we traveled back home from Big Bend NP last year so we didn’t stop along this section, but headed north along the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains to Carrizozo and east into Lincoln National Forest.

Capitan, NM is in this area and the home of the Smokey Bear museum. The original concept of Smokey Bear was developed without a real bear in mind, and named after a New York City fire chief. Soon after it caught on a bear cub near Capitan was rescued after a forest fire and named Smokey. He spent his life in the Washington, DC Zoo and was then buried back in Capitan after his death in the 1970s. Another orphaned bear from the Lincoln National Forest took his place.

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He became a worldwide recognized symbol for forest fire safety and the museum had quite a few of the memorabilia made over the years for Smokey.

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Just down the road to the east of Capitan sits Lincoln, NM.

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This little town was the county seat for Lincoln County, which used to be the entire southeast corner of the New Mexico Territory, about 200 miles by 200 miles with one sheriff. Following the Civil War, this area saw a great influx of folks and was the site for what’s known as the Lincoln County War and its most infamous participant, Billy the Kid. This area is cattle country and two sides went to war to secure the lucrative NM territory government beef contracts, using the cowboys running the herds as hired guns. Because of the lack of any law other than a six gun and crooked politics in the region, both sides were deputies of some faction of the law and many folks died. Billy the Kid, as a participant in the war and a good shot given the folks he killed, was granted a pardon for his testimony to convict one of the ring leaders from the other side, but the conviction was never carried out due to politics and Billy’s pardon was taken away. He was arrested, but then killed his holders with their own guns, who were rivals in the county war and fled. When real law was finally brought to the area they realized that Billy the Kid was a loose end that needed to go, and hunted him down and shot him in Fort Sumner, NM.

We then headed further east to Roswell, NM. While Roswell is known for its aliens, the town is actually the dairy capital of the southwest. Makes you wonder what’s in the milk. We skipped the alien stuff and headed to Bottomless Lakes State Park just east of Roswell for the night. The campground is built around several sinkholes that filled with water from the Pecos River to form these series of round lakes. We had our own sinkhole lake as a campsite – much cooler than a green alien.

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We had a 3-foot diamondback rattlesnake slither across the road just outside our campsight, and then this 4-foot bull snake slithered the other way the next morning. I wonder if he ate the diamonback?

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The largest of the lakes has a lot of day sites around it as seen from the cliff above. We hiked the nature trail through the wetlands off in the distance beyond the lake.

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When we circled back around the lake where the day-use sites were located we noticed that each site has a built-in spa area to relax in the water. I can imagine in the summer these are prime spots for weekend picnics.

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We left the campground and headed to the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge just east of Roswell. This place along the Pecos River is the western border of the North American central flyway for migratory birds. Many of the wintering birds that call this home, including Sandhill Cranes, have already left to begin the migration north for the summer.

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We had a nice drive and hike around the place, and saw several interesting birds, but we may have to come back in the wintertime to see the flocks.

We then drove into Fort Sumner to visit the Billy the Kid museum. While the museum had several Billy related memorabilia, like his gun, the museum was packed with all sorts of very cool stuff.

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The antique guns they had there were impressive.

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I was also crushed to see several good anvils as display items. They would be much happier in my forge.

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The area in this part of NM is wide open country. The wind blew constantly for several days across the open land that seemed to be only inhabited by cows, pronghorns and the few vehicles we passed.

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We drove up to Santa Rosa, NM to see the Blue Hole. This is a spring that pumps water out of the ground at a rate of 50 gallons a second. Folks come here to scuba dive into the hole or just swim. With the water temperature at 61 degrees, we passed on the brisk swim.

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We camped the night at Santa Rosa Lake State Park. The NM state park system has good campsites and beautiful locations. We passed a few pronghorn entering the campground. While a cheetah may be faster in a short sprint, the pronghorn can keep its top speed up for many, many miles. It could be argued that it is the all-around fastest animal on the track, but ironically it would do poorly in the field events.

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I was able to test out the griddle option for the volcano 3 at the campsite, mostly because of the constant 20 knot wind that was blowing through. Turkey burgers, with hatch chilies, bacon and pepper jack cheese grilled up nicely.

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We then headed west again to Mountainair, NM to see the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monuments. These missions were the northern part of the Spanish trade routes from Mexico City established in the 1580s, built by the local tribes for the Spanish missionaries. The wealth of the area was salt in the local dried lakes. The three mission sites are spread apart by roughly 30 miles. All were abandoned in the 1670s due to drought and famine that hit the area. The missionaries and Pueblo indians crossed over the mountains to the Rio Grande River basin to the west. It was 200 years before the area was resettled again and these missions re-discovered.

The most southern site is Gran Quivira, where the entire city was constructed from limestone.

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Abo was the next more northernly site and the last to be abandoned in the 1670s. Sandstone was used to construct the northern missions.

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Quarai was the most northern site in the Salinas area. The walls of the church are just massive. During their occupation, each of the churches were ornately decorated with items brought up the Camino Real trade routes up the Rio Grande River basin from Mexico.

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We headed back up into the hills and camped at Manzano Mountain State Park. I tried fish tacos tonight on the grill, with halibut, mango and pineapple. It was tasty.

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Tomorrow we head into Albuquerque to see some friends and spend the night in a city.

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