The Route

Journey deep into the mystique of the Old West while searching out quirky art and eerie landscapes in this 184-mile adventure that starts in the seat of Lincoln County. The mountain air of the Lincoln National Forest surrounds you on Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway, which ventures through the hangout for the era’s most wanted gunfighters. Spend day two immersed in the ancient art of the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site and the dunes of White Sands National Park.

From left: Smokey Bear is ready for his close-up. See ancient art at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Photographs by John McCauley and Minesh Bacrania.

Day 1

Begin in Carrizozo, a former railroad town that’s been re-energized as an arts community. Tour hip galleries, artist studios, and colorful shops in the downtown area. Malkerson Gallery 408 launched the town’s arts district when artist Joan Malkerson and her husband, Warren, opened it in 2005. If it’s Friday between noon and 1 p.m., channel your inner Picasso with a public-art activity by Paula Wilson and Mike Lagg at MoMaZoZo.

Make a quick stop in Capitán for a selfie with Smokey at Smokey Bear Historical Park. The orphaned cub was rescued from a nearby fire in 1950, and the rest is forest-safety history. Check out the gift shop and the museum, which is packed with vintage Smokey souvenirs, including a Milton Bradley Smokey Bear board game.

Walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid in the village of Lincoln, where not much has changed since the Lincoln County War was fought, from 1878 to 1881. Explore the Lincoln Historic Site’s seventeen 19th-century buildings, including the Old Lincoln County Courthouse, where the Kid pulled off his notorious jailbreak, and the Tunstall Store, once owned by Englishman John Tunstall, whose death triggered this infamous war of the Old West.

Head to Ruidoso, a picturesque alpine mountain town and your final stop of the day. Unwind from the road with a rented kayak or paddleboard from the Dam House at Grindstone Lake. When the clock strikes happy hour, Noisy Water Winery is the place for chile-infused New Mexico wine. For dinner, grab a seat on the deck of the Rio Grande Grill & Tap Room for hearty burgers paired with award-winning craft beer from Sierra Blanca Brewing Company.

Pay a visit to La Luz Pottery. Photograph by Jen Judge.

Roadside Stop

Some of America’s most coveted 20th-century pottery was handcrafted near Alamogordo at La Luz Pottery. For two decades, La Luz produced roof and floor tiles, vases, bowls, and other objects. La Luz closed in 1949, but you can tour the property and restored buildings with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society.

From left: The Lincoln County Courthouse and its infamous window. A bottle of Noisy Water Winery vino makes a great souvenir. Photographs by NMTD and Minesh Bacrania.

Day 2

Fuel up for the day with breakfast at Cornerstone Bakery & Cafe, a community hub known for colossal cinnamon rolls, breakfast quesadillas, and other delights. Stroll around Ruidoso’s charming Midtown neighborhood, brimming with unique boutiques, galleries, and shopping plazas. You’ll find cowboy fashion, custom jewelry, vintage treasures, and just enough kitschy souvenirs. Browse White Mountain Pottery’s collection of colorful ceramics handcrafted by local and national artists, and Nomad’s mountain-town-cool shirts, hats, and other apparel.

Ponder the ancients at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, where more than 21,000 carvings, created between 900 and 1400, make this the largest rock-art site in the Southwest. The Jornada Mogollon people chipped the rock patina with stone tools, creating images of birds, fish, humans, and other abstract and geometric figures across some 50 acres in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. You can hike several trails, but the half-mile walk from the visitor shelter will reward you with a visual feast.

When the lunch whistle blows, head to Rockin’ BZ Burgers, in Alamogordo, for what many consider one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the state. You’ll need two hands to conquer the Champ, which won the 2012 New Mexico State Fair Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. Try a side of fried pickles and a corn dog to feel right at home in this local fave.

Now you’re ready to explore White Sands National Park, where majestic gypsum dunes cover nearly 3,000 acres. You can spend hours walking (and sledding) this stunning sandscape. A ranger-guided sunset stroll will introduce you to the park’s plants, animals, and geology.

Family Zone

Saddle up for a one-hour guided horseback ride with Grindstone Stables, in Ruidoso. The beginner-friendly trail winds past Grindstone Lake to the top of Townsend Ridge. Or travel back to the Old West days in a covered horse-drawn carriage ride through Ruidoso’s Midtown, with the same outfitter. “Our specialty is families and beginners,” says owner Stephanie Kennedy.

Retreat to the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery & Guest Homes. Photograph by John McCauley.

Where to Stay

Rent a rustic mountain cabin in Ruidoso and you may never want to leave. Ruidoso Cabins offers 18 romantic mountain getaways, and Story Book Cabins has upscale lodging with indoor Jacuzzis and outdoor hot tubs. The cool alpine air, surrounding forest, riverfront settings, and wildlife visits will make you a happy camper.

A stay at the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery & Guest Homes, in San Patricio, may inspire the artist in you. The former residence of Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth Hurd offers charming guest casitas filled with family artwork. The on-site gallery showcases original art by three generations of this celebrated family, including son Michael Hurd, recipient of a Governor’s Art Award.