CARRIZOZO & TULAROSA Casa de Sueños New Mexican Restaurant & Gift Shop
35 St. Francis Dr., Tularosa; (575) 585-3494

Gallery 408 408 12th St., Carrizozo; (575) 648-2598;

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site U.S. 54 between Carrizozo and Tularosa; (575) 525-4300;

The Tulie Cafe 313 Granado St., Tularosa; (575) 585-3100; on Facebook

Alameda Park Zoo 1321 N. White Sands Blvd.; (575) 439-4290;

Brown Bag Deli 900 Washington Ave.; (575) 437-9751

Can’t Stop Smokin’ 900 E. 10th St.; (575) 437-4227;

Fairfield Inn & Suites 300 Panorama Blvd.; (575) 437-4000;

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch & Arena Blanca Winery 7320 U.S. 54/70; (575) 437-0602;

New Mexico Museum of Space History 31 N.M. 2001; (575) 437-2840;

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park 409 Dog Canyon Rd.; (575) 437-8284;

Stella Vita 902 N. New York Ave.; (575) 434-4444;

White Sands Motel 1101 S. White Sands Blvd.; (575) 437-2922;

White Sands National Monument 19955 U.S. 70 W.; (575) 479-6124;

Big Daddy’s Diner 1705 U.S. 82; (575) 682-1224;

The Lodge Resort in Cloudcroft 601 Corona Pl.; (800) 395-6343;

Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum 1000 U.S. 82; (575) 682-2932;

Ski Cloudcroft 19201⁄2 U.S. 82; (575) 682-2333;

Ski Palace 90 U.S. 82; (575) 682-2045;

Any time of year that I plan a trip in New Mexico, but especially in winter, I find myself torn between the state’s vast valleys and its evergreen-studded high elevations. This three-day road trip embraces both extremes: the temperate valley communities of Tularosa and Alamogordo and the crisp mountain town of Cloudcroft, which at nearly 9,000 feet ranks among the highest towns in the country. In winter, temperatures range from the low teens to the upper sixties, so I always pack layers of clothing.

Begin your journey in Carrizozo, at the northern tip of the Tularosa Basin. Drive south on U.S. 54 for 44 miles (with an optional stop along the way at Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreation Site) to Tularosa and break for lunch. Then continue another 12 miles to Alamogordo, where you’ll spend the first night. The next day, drive 15 miles south on U.S. 54 to visit beautiful (and underrated) Oliver Lee Memorial State Park; then backtrack north on U.S. 54 to Alamogordo and drive west 15 miles on U.S. 70 to White Sands National Monument. After leaving the park, return on U.S. 70 to Alamogordo, then follow U.S. 82 for 20 miles up into the mountains to Cloudcroft, where you’ll spend your second night.

Begin your tour with a look around the compact downtown of Carrizozo, an erstwhile railroad hub of about 1,000 residents. You’ll find some handsome late-19th/early-20th-century buildings in the village center, especially along Central Avenue (U.S. 54) and 12th Street. Although many of these buildings are vacant, a few contain small shops and galleries. Of particular note, Gallery 408 occupies a brightly painted pink adobe and displays the works of some 40 artists, from Corey Walker’s striking landscape photography to Ria Neilson’s curvy and colorful fused-glass sculptures.

About 30 miles south of Carrizozo, stop to explore some of the roughly 21,000 rock depictions at 50-acre Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, where a Mogollon community proliferated for several hundred years. Easy trails lead to representations of bighorn sheep, armadillos, lizards, human figures, and abstract designs.

The small, historic, tree-shaded town of Tularosa contains a well-preserved historic district with dozens of handsome 19th-century Victorian and Spanish Colonial adobe buildings. Along the two-block main drag, you’ll find a couple of antiques shops and galleries as well as a fine option for lunch, the Tulie Cafe, which is set inside a sprawling brick-and-adobe structure with a carved-wood bar and a gracious side patio anchored by an ornate fountain. The kitchen turns out reliably good burgers, pistachio chicken salad, red chile enchiladas, and high-octane margaritas. Casa de Sueños New Mexican Restaurant & Gift Shop is another lunch option.

As you roll into the north end of Alamogordo, keep an eye out for the 30-foot-tall pistachio- nut sculpture that marks the entrance to McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch & Arena Blanca Winery. Stop in to sample chile-flavored and butter-toffee-glazed pistachios, three-nut (pistachio, pecan, and cashew) brittle, and pistachio fudge, along with some of the fruit-forward sweet wines produced by the ranch’s vineyard.

Alamogordo’s New Mexico Museum of Space History presents an excellent overview of the state’s eight decades of space explora- tion, which began when Robert Goddard launched rockets in nearby Roswell in the 1930s and continues to this day at Spaceport America, west of White Sands Missile Range. At this five-story glass-cube building perched high in the Alamogordo foothills, you can view everything from aerosol Pepsi and freeze-dried cheese spreads developed for Apollo flights to the 86-foot-tall Little Joe II rocket, in the museum’s John P. Stapp Air & Space Park.

End your day with dinner at Stella Vita, an elegant, art-filled restaurant decked with Oriental rugs and black napery, where you can tuck into such refined modern American fare as tender rib-eye steaks topped with sautéed mushrooms, and pan-seared duck breast with cherry-chipotle sauce and green-chile cheese grits.

The Fairfield Inn & Suites’ large, contemporary rooms come with iPod docks and 42-inch TVs, and there’s an indoor pool and exercise room. Or save a few bucks by nesting at the immaculately clean, retro-cool White Sands Motel, a low-slung tan building with a fabulous vintage sign. The rock-bottom rates include free Wi-Fi and Continental breakfast.

Start the day with a tour of surprisingly large Alameda Park Zoo, right in the center of downtown Alamogordo. The 12-acre zoo is home to more than 250 species, many indig-enous to the region—Harris hawks, Mexican gray wolves, black bears—but quite a few oth- ers from elsewhere around the world.

Stop downtown for a quick lunch at Brown Bag Deli, which serves enormous sub sand- wiches overflowing with capicola, pastrami, provolone, and more, or Can’t Stop Smokin’, a casual log-cabin-style joint serving top-notch pulled pork, smoked sausage, and beef-rib barbecue, with berry cobbler for dessert.

Somewhat overshadowed by nearby must-stop White Sands National Monument, stunning Oliver Lee Memorial State Park is well worth even a short visit. If you’re game for a real adventure, spend the day here following the ribbon of piñon trees that climbs some five miles up into steep, striated Dog Canyon. With an elevation gain of 3,100 feet, it’s a strenuous trek. Walk just a half-mile up the much shorter Riparian Nature Trail, however, and you’ll be rewarded with expansive views west across the Tularosa Basin. A sign at the trailhead warns that you may just cross paths with a Western diamondback rattlesnake— “wear sturdy high boots” and “avoid quick moves” are among the helpful admonitions.

First-timers driving through the region in winter sometimes mistake the powdery dunes of White Sands National Monument for snow. Rest assured that even in February, you can often scamper comfortably around this 275-square-mile sandbox in shorts and flip-flops. Do spend some time in the handsome WPA-era adobe visitor center, where a film and interpretive signs explain how gypsum trapped in the landlocked Tularosa Basin has accumulated over the eons to form one of the Southwest’s most iconic landscapes. Then drive the 16-mile round-trip paved scenic loop through the dunes, stopping here and there to climb and cavort in the sand. To test your sledding skills on one of the monument’s precipitous dunes, rent a waxed-plastic “snow saucer” at the visitor center gift shop.

Managed in the 1930s by Socorro-raised future hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, the Lodge Resort, in Cloudcroft, has hosted Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Pancho Villa. These days, the century-old grande dame, with its distinctive red-white-and-blue central tower, contains 59 individually decorated rooms as well as a full-service spa known for its mountain-stone massages, sea-salt glows, and herbal wraps. Dine in the romantic restaurant, Rebecca’s, which is named for the hotel’s resident ghost and serves deftly crafted Continental fare, including escargots with roasted green chiles and garlic butter, seared sea scallops with lemon-chive butter, and bananas Foster prepared tableside.

If you happen to awaken to a blanket of pure snow out the window— a distinct possibility this time of year—fuel up on the decadent Sunday champagne brunch at Rebecca’s before availing yourself of Cloudcroft’s plentiful winter activities. Downtown’s Ski Palace shop rents just about every imaginable type of winter gear, from long johns to snowboards, and just three miles east of town, family-friendly Ski Cloudcroft offers 25 downhill ski trails of varying levels of difficulty. (The skiing is very snowfall dependent—call ahead.) Additionally, in surrounding Lincoln Forest there’s exhilarating tubing and sledding at Upper Karr Canyon Recreation Area and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Little Apache Canyon.

Visitors to the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum are often surprised by how much there is to explore at this pioneer village on the east side of downtown. Cleverly assembled exhibits provide an engaging overview of Cloudcroft’s against-the-odds development into a small but vibrant tourism hub. Along with historic photos, you can also peruse collections of military and Mescalero Apache memorabilia, and visit a sweet 1899 Episcopal chapel surrounded by shimmering aspen trees. In winter, the museum is open only Friday–Sunday, weather permitting.

Spend the afternoon sauntering along Cloudcroft’s spirited Wild West–inspired retail strip, Burro Street, with its log-cabin storefronts and timber balconies. Funky stores and galleries include the fragrant Cricklewood Candle Company and the kid-approved candy and gift shops inside the bustling Cloudcroft Hotel and Gift Mall. The most celebrated lunch spot in town lies just east of downtown: family-owned Big Daddy’s Diner occupies a rambling wood-frame roadhouse and turns out delicious Tex–New Mex bites, from 18-hour slow-cooked barbecue brisket to hefty cheeseburgers.