New Mexico North: View Purple Peaks, Meadows, and Flaming Skies at Dusk

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

11. Cimarron The 25,000 Boy Scouts who visit Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron each year know quite well to “Be Prepared.” But in the days when the West was still wild and Cimarron was overflowing with the likes of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, that motto would have meant: be prepared for a quick draw. Boasting 15 saloons, the town was so raucous that on one occasion a journalist noted, “Everything is quiet in Cimarron. Nobody has been killed for three days.” The St. James Hotel, where Buffalo Bill organized his Wild West extravaganza, was a nefarious hangout and didn’t escape injury. No fewer than 400 bullet holes were found in the ceilings of the hotel’s saloon, hallways, and rooms during a 1901 renovation, and you can still see some today. The St. James was built in 1872 by a chef who had once served Abraham Lincoln.

12. Sugarite Canyon State Park In the 1800s thousands of eager traders and their loaded freight wagons rumbled across the land between Raton and Cimarron — part of the 850-mile Santa Fe Trail. After negotiating Raton Pass, an axle-breaking route over the mountains, they may well have stopped for a breather at Sugarite Canyon, a quiet niche (now a state park) that seems to epitomize New Mexico: flower-strewn meadows meet high palisades, and a serene mountain lake reflects aspen-clad slopes and the wide blue sky.

13. Capulin Volcano National Monument Capulin Mountain — a nearly symmetrical, extinct volcano — exploded many thousands of years ago, spewing ash and steam high into the atmosphere. For a present-day view of the volcano, the surrounding plains, and — on a clear day — Colorado and Oklahoma, take the narrow road that ends just below the summit, then walk the rim trail. Another trail descends a quarter mile into the crater.

14. Clayton Lake State Park At Kiowa National Grasslands, a 136,505-acre preserve east of Clayton, it is still possible to imagine straight-horned bison and prehistoric hunters watching an endless sea of grass as it swayed to the distant horizon. Eons before the first Indians arrived in North American and the prairie took root, dinosaurs roamed the muddy banks of an ancient sea, one whose shores stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. The enormous beasts left their mark at Clayton Lake State Park, northwest of Clayton, where 500 elephantine footprints (discovered after a scouring rain storm in 1982) are embedded in a two-acre swath of sandstone: a fitting finale for visitors taking a journey imbued with images from the recent and distant past.

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