THE ROUTE
This entire loop drive covers a manageable 75 miles, so you could actually spend all three nights in any one community along the way, and explore the different sections of this itinerary on day outings. However, if you don’t want to retrace your steps, and you do want three distinctive overnight experiences, follow this plan: Spend your first day and night in Ruidoso, taking in the town’s key attractions and exploring the retail and dining district along N.M. 48. On day two, drive north 6 miles on N.M. 48 to the village of Alto, making a 25-mile round-trip detour on N.M. 532 to explore Ski Apache’s summertime charms. Continue 25 miles via N.M. 48, N.M. 220, and U.S. 380 to the Wild West town of Lincoln, where you can enjoy dinner and spend your second night. On day three, after checking out Lincoln’s historic sites on foot, drive east 13 miles on U.S. 380 to Hondo. Continue another 2 miles east on U.S. 70 to Tinnie, and then backtrack west on U.S. 70 for 7 miles to San Patricio, where you can spend your final night at the Hurd–La Rinconada Gallery & Guest Homes, or continue 23 more miles back to Ruidoso. --

Need To Know
RUIDOSO AND ENVIRONS
Cornerstone Bakery Café
359 Sudderth Dr.; (575) 257-1842; cornerstonebakerycafe.com

Fort Stanton Historic Site
104 Kit Carson Rd., Fort Stanton; (575) 258-5702; fortstanton.org

Hall of Flame Burgers 2500 Sudderth Dr.; (575) 257-9987; hallofflameburgers.com

Hubbard Museum of the American West
26301 U.S. 70, Ruidoso Downs;(575) 378-4142; hubbardmuseum.org

Inn of the Mountain Gods and Wendell’s
287 Carrizo Canyon Rd.,
Mescalero; (800) 545-9011;
innofthemountaingods.com

Mountain Top Pizza
1501 Sudderth Dr.; (575) 257-4657; on Facebook

Rosa’s Roasted Corn
2415 Sudderth Dr.; (575) 257-9651; on Facebook

Ruidoso Valley Visitor Center
720 Sudderth Dr.; (575) 257-7395; ruidosonow.com

Shadow Mountain Lodge
107 Main Rd.; (575) 257-4886; shadowmountainlodge.com

Ski Apache
1286 Ski Run Rd., Mescalero (575) 336-4356; skiapache.com

Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts N.M. 220, Alto; (575) 336-4800; spencertheater.com

Zocca Coffee & Tea
1129 Mechem Dr.; (575) 258-1445; zoccacoffee.com

LINCOLN
Laughing Sheep 124 Orchard View Ln.; (575) 653-4041; laughingsheepfarm.com

Lincoln Historic Site’s Visitor Center U.S. 380; (575) 653-4025; nmmonuments.org/lincoln

Wortley Hotel
585 Calle La Placita; (575) 653-4300; wortleyhotel.com

HONDO AND SAN PATRICIO

Hondo Iris Farm and Gallery
U.S. 70, Hondo; (575) 653-4062; hondoirisfarm.com

Hurd–La Rinconada Gallery & Guest Homes
105 La Rinconada Ln., San Patricio; (800) 658-6912; wyethartists.com

Tinnie Silver Dollar 28842 U.S. 70, Tinnie; (575) 653-4425; tinniesilverdollar.com

WHY GO NOW

Ruidoso and its surrounding string of low-key alpine villages is one of my favorite places to bring friends unfamiliar with the southeastern part of the state, especially during the warmer months of the year. I often segue into this road trip after a visit to White Sands National Monument. As we turn onto U.S. 70 and continue northeast toward Ruidoso, the landscape changes dramatically, from the arid, shrubby look of the desert valley to the verdant conifer groves of Lincoln National Forest. Upon reaching Ruidoso, the nearly 12,000-foot peaks of the White Mountains (aka Sierra Blanca) come into view, and the temperature has typically dropped 10 to 15 degrees since we left Tularosa, just 35 miles away—but 2,500 feet lower in elevation.

For decades, the area’s cool mountain air has been a powerful drawing card, and not just for vacationers. The region supports a year-round population of about 21,000, making it one of New Mexico’s fastestgrowing areas. I usually combine my adventures in the White Mountains with a side trip from Ruidoso over to historic Lincoln, infamous as the site of Billy the Kid’s daring and deadly jail break. There’s nothing like a tale of Wild West gunfights to make you appreciate how times have changed in one of New Mexico’s most alluring mountainscapes.

DAY 1: RUIDOSO SIDEWALK STROLL: Ruidoso’s inviting Midtown neighborhood is centered along a pedestrian-friendly, mile-long stretch of Sudderth Drive (N.M. 48) from about Country Club Drive to Mechem Drive. You’ll find small shopping plazas, family-style restaurants, quirky galleries, and colorful boutiques selling everything from the usual touristy knickknacks to high-end housewares and gifts. For a toothsome break from window-shopping, pop inside Rosa’s Roasted Corn, a modest A-frame caf. along the main drag that serves Mexican-style roasted corn (available “on the cob” or served in cups), doused liberally with queso fresco, chile powder, and salsa. For a more substantial midday meal, Hall of Flame Burgers serves up hefty bacon-Cheddar patties, avocado-chicken sandwiches, and steak tacos.

HORSEPLAY: In the afternoon, drive a few miles east of town to the community of Ruidoso Downs—so named for the acclaimed racetrack that’s thrived here since the 1930s and holds live quarter-horse races from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Here you can also tour the exceptional Hubbard Museum of the American West, a treasure chest of memorabilia related to the Wild West. Highlights include a fine assortment of 19th-century pistols, rifles, and muskets, and the Anne C. Stradling Collection of art and artifacts. The latter features a diverse assortment of pieces, from an early Navajo bow and arrow to Sioux and Cree moccasins from the 1880s. You can also visit a showroom displaying antique surreys, Conestogas, chuck wagons, and other horse-drawn vehicles used during America’s westward expansion. Just outside the museum’s main entrance is a sculpture garden that boasts eight larger-than-life bronze horses created in 1995 by Dave McGary.

DINING AROUND: You’ll find some of the best food in the region at Wendell’s, the tony steak-and-seafood restaurant at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, which is nestled in the tranquil, forested Mescalero Apache Reservation just south of Ruidoso. Dinner here will set you back a few shekels, but the service is stellar, and the creative Southwest cuisine consistently exceeds expectations. Try the flashseared local elk tenderloin with a blackberry-cognac reduction and roasted-corn-jalape.o custard, or the pecan-crusted Atlantic salmon poached in white wine, with asparagus and lemon gastrique. Alternatively, much lighter on the budget, if not the waistline, are the green-chile bread sticks, meatball sandwiches, and Mountain High meat-lover pies served at Ruidoso’s Mountain Top Pizza.

OVERNIGHT: Home to the region’s swankiest quarters, the airy and sleek Inn of the Mountain Gods casino resort has 273 plush rooms, many of them facing the lake, golf course, and Sierra Blanca Peak in the distance. Shadow Mountain Lodge is a less pricey option situated within walking distance of shopping and dining in Ruidoso’s quiet, treeshaded Upper Canyon district. The lodge’s 19 suites and 4 cabins are designed with romance and relaxation in mind—all have outdoor hot tubs, reclining love seats, woodburning fireplaces, and full kitchenettes.

DAY 2: RUIDOSO TO LINCOLN

FUEL UP: Start your morning with breakfast at one of Ruidoso’s most beloved gathering spots, the Cornerstone Bakery Café, where you’ll be treated to prodigious helpings of baguette French toast, huevos rancheros, and fluffy biscuits and gravy. Clear a spot on your plate for one of Cornerstone’s legendarily delicious pecan sticky buns. Or try a treat from the bakery case, perhaps a whitechocolate pistachio cookie or a slice of coconut cream pie.

GONDOLIERING: As you head north out of Ruidoso, plan a two- to four-hour side trip to southern New Mexico’s premier winter-sports venue, Ski Apache. In the summer, you can ride the gondola to 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca Peak, rent mountain bikes and tackle the new 5.5-mile track, or scamper up the hiking trails on the Crest or Sierra Blanca. (Love to golf? See “Summer Fun at Mountain Resorts,” p. 47.) From the top of the gondola, there’s also an easy 1/2-mile Lookout Trail that affords 360-degree views of the Ruidoso Valley and the Tularosa Basin.

A HIGH ROAD TO LINCOLN: Once you’re back in Alto, make the picturesque 25-mile drive to Lincoln. But first, if you’ve worked up an appetite on the mountain, stop by Zocca Coffee & Tea, an inviting caf. with wood-paneled walls and comfy leather chairs. Panini sandwiches, muffins, and bagels are served in addition to well-crafted espresso drinks.

As you continue northeast from Alto along N.M. 220, keep an eye out for the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts, a dazzling 514-seat concert hall that hosts a variety of shows in summer. Free tours of this architectural gem, which features several impressive glass-art works by Dale Chihuly, are given on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. About 10 miles farther along N.M. 220, stop to explore the museum at Fort Stanton Historic Site. It will shed light on this 1855 fortification’s role in U.S. military battles with the Mescalero Apache tribe. You’ll also find out about the Confederate Army’s brief seizure of the fort during the first year of the Civil War, and future General John J. Pershing’s two stints there as a junior officer.

ON THE LAMB: Dining options are few in historic Lincoln, but on Friday and Saturday evenings, Laughing Sheep—a pastoral working farm just across the R.o Bonito from U.S. 380—serves hearty five-course dinners in a rustic, light-filled space overlooking a small pond. Pumpkin soup with Gruy.re, orange-glazed quail, and tender lamb steaks are among the offerings.

OVERNIGHT: Owned at one time by none other than Sheriff Pat Garrett, the rambling, five-room Wortley Hotel makes an atmospheric, affordable overnight base. Rates include full breakfast.

DAY 3: LINCOLN TO SAN PATRICIO

BILLY THE KID’S LEGACY: Spend the first half of the day strolling around the village of Lincoln. At the Anderson–Freeman Visitors Center, administered by the Lincoln Historic Site, you can watch a short video and examine mementos and exhibits related to the town’s hurly-burly past, including the infamous Wild West battles between Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, and the other colorful characters who fought in the Lincoln County Wars of 1878–1881. The violent turf wars escalated to the point that President Rutherford B. Hayes compelled Governor Lew Wallace to intercede. (See “Ben-Hur vs. Billy the Kid,” p. 48.) You can walk among and inside some of the 17 buildings that make up the Lincoln Historic District, including the Lincoln County Courthouse Museum, from which Billy the Kid escaped, gunning down two guards in the process. Be sure to check out the Tunstall Store Museum, a fascinating repository of hardware, lamps, clothing, and other unsold mercantile dating back more than a century. The Old Mission San Juan Bautista, a simple, dignified adobe chapel that dates to 1887, also deserves a visit.

BLOOMIN’ BEAUTIFUL: Late spring and early summer are the perfect times to visit Hondo Iris Farm and Gallery. Find acres of glorious gardens blooming not only with countless varieties of aromatic irises, but also peonies, Oriental lilies, and a collection of plants and cacti that thrive in highdesert environments, such as agaves and red-tip yuccas. Watch dozens of tiny hummingbirds flit about the flower beds. Browse the farm’s gallery, where you can shop for local pewter jewelry, as well as textiles and clothing from Africa, the Caribbean, southeastern Asia, eastern Europe, and many other far-flung lands.

CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH OR STEAK DINNER: Drive east from Lincoln to a hiccup of a town called Tinnie, which is home to one of the more dramatic buildings in the area, the Tinnie Silver Dollar. This adobe building with bright-red corrugated roofing and a lofty red-and-white tower contains a package store and deli. It also boasts an elegantly furnished steak house and saloon that serves dinner Thursday through Saturday evenings, and a highly popular Sunday Champagne brunch. The eggs Benedict with green-chile hollandaise sauce is a standout; pair it with a mimosa or Bloody Mary.

OVERNIGHT: You could spend the night channeling the artistic creativity of the illustrious

Hurd and Wyeth families at Hurd–La Rinconada Gallery & Guest Homes. The picturesque compound—once the home of celebrated artists Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth Hurd—comprises six different adobe guest buildings, including the original 1930s hacienda-style Wyeth House (sleeps up to six) and the tree-shaded Apple House cottage (sleeps up to four), with a patio and grill overlooking the high-desert foothills. These very private units—furnished individually with family artworks and collectibles—have fully equipped kitchens and would make a nice home base for the entire road trip, as San Patricio is no more than a 45-minute drive from any point on this tour. Alternatively, continue 23 miles back to Ruidoso and spend your final night there.