Sightseeing Adventure: New Mexico’s Scenic South

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

5. Sierra Blanca
The White Mountain—Sierra Blanca—has been in sight over much of the drive, its bold 12,003-foot summit visible wherever the view is unobstructed. In summer its slopes are speckled with asters, sunflowers, and other wildlings. Come winter, downhill skiers flock to Ski Apache, a resort run by the Mescalero Apache Indians. To reach the ski area, follow State Rte. 532, a narrow, twisting road. Stop off en route at the Windy Point Vista Lookout, where on clear days the views take in mountains up to 100 miles away.

6. Smokey Bear Historical State Park
Back on State Rte. 48 the drive maneuvers down mountain slopes lush with a nearly continuous forest of pines and firs. At lower elevations piñon and juniper trees decorate the foothills, which in turn give way to the basin floor and Capitan, a hub for the area’s ranchers since 1900. Capitan’s real claim to fame, however, began when a bear cub was discovered clinging to a tree in the wake of a devastating forest fire in 1950. Rescued and cared for, the little foundling went on to achieve lasting fame as the country’s symbol for fire prevention: Smokey Bear. At the historical state park, visitors can learn all about the popular bear and follow a short path through landscaped grounds that lead to the site of Smokey’s grave.

7. Valley of Fires
Underscoring yet again the region’s dramatic diversity, the drive dips out of the cool forest via Rte. 380 and leads to the Valley of Fires. Scorched by red-hot rivers of lava some 1,500 years ago, the land today lies buried beneath black volcanic rock, a jagged realm of ridges and caves. Though mostly barren, this recreation area has been colonized here and there by tenacious, drought-resistant desert plants. A three-quarter-mile loop trail traverses a cracked terrace of sandstone, then leads directly onto the solidified lava flow.

8. Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The drive’s last leg follows Rte. 54 south through the barren depths of the Tularosa Basin to one of the country’s largest collections of ancient rock etchings, or petroglyphs. Carved centuries ago by the Jornada Mogollon Indians, this remarkable desert display includes depictions of symbolic figures, sunbursts, masks, rattlesnakes, and much more. Standing amid this gallery of primitive art, you are also treated to a grand panorama. Sierra Blanca crests in the east; the San Andres Mountains run along the western horizon; and in the south, hills of white sand shine brightly, beckoning you back toward the beginning of your journey leading through the Land of Enchantment.

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