New Mexico has 26 scenic byways. This story is about one of them — the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, designated in 1998 — an 84-mile journey through portions of the Lincoln National Forest but, more enticingly, along trails once used by Billy the Kid.
Your journey will begin and end in Ruidoso. As you wander the byway, pay attention to the natural beauty around you. The Sacramento Mountains are to the southwest. The Capitan Mountains are to the north. Snowmelt and rain have formed the valleys through which you’ll drive, along Rio Ruidoso that drains into Rio Hondo, which meets Rio Bonito at Hondo, and continues until it joins the Pecos River farther east. The result is verdant meadows, adorned in spring and summer with wildflowers and golden leaves of aspen in fall. Winter offers its own unique charms. If you’re fortunate, you may spot a mule deer, a pronghorn, a soaring hawk, or a black bear. Wait! A black bear? You’re certain to meet one. I’ll tell you in a minute. Bear with me.
Where to start your journey
It’s always best to begin at the beginning and, on your journey along the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, the best place to begin is the byway visitor center on US 70 — right next to the currently closed Hubbard Museum of the American West. Exhibits at the visitor center interpret many of the area’s stories and inform visitors planning a stay of available amenities. It’s just a good place to get your bearings.
Heading east, your first stop is Glencoe, a town established in the 1870s by Scottish farmers — and outlaws. Glen means valley in Gaelic. Coe is the name of the founding family. They weren’t there long before George and Frank Coe, along with Billy the Kid, were involved in the gunfight at Blazer’s Mills, located on what is today the Mescalero Apache Reservation. They’d all been hunting down the men who murdered John Tunstall, an event that set off the Lincoln County War. Frank Coe tried to get Buckshot Roberts, who pleaded innocence, to surrender. He refused, setting off the gunfight. Only Roberts was killed.
What you’ll find in Glencoe today is Saint Anne’s Chapel, which is listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties. The chapel was named in honor of Frank Coe’s mother-in-law, Helena Anne Watson Tully. It is believed to have been designed by John Gaw Meem, the architect responsible for Santa Fe’s Pueblo Revival style, and features English Gothic design, arched windows, and hand-hewn porch supports. It was completed in 1934 and is open to visitors and worshippers 24 hours a day.
San Patricio and the Hurds
The next stop is San Patricio, home of the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery and Guest Homes. You’ll exit US 70, crossing Rio Hondo to Peter Hurd Loop. Watch for signs leading to the property. It’s tricky but worth taking your time to find.
If the name is familiar, it’s where Peter Hurd and his wife, Henriette Wyeth-Hurd lived and worked. Hurd married into the Wyeth family of world-famous artists. He was one himself. Henriette’s brother is Andrew — and both are children of N.C. Wyeth. The Hurd’s son, Michael, is also an accomplished artist.
You can visit the gallery Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’ll find originals and prints — all for sale. But there’s more here than just art. There are four guest houses you can reserve to immerse yourself in the Hurd/Wyeth world. And for those who just want a touch more than seeing the astounding art, you can partake in a glass of wine at the Sentinel Ranch Winery and Tasting Room. The winery is open during gallery hours and has extended hours during summer. Along with your favorite vintage, you can sample fruits, cheeses, olives, and crusty bread. Check out the website at hurdgallery.com.
Tinnie Silver Dollar
When you get to Hondo, drive just a bit farther on Highway 70 towards Roswell — three miles — to Tinnie Silver Dollar restaurant, once a general store built in 1873 and later — in 1903 — a post office. The first postmaster was Isidro Analla. In 1909, Oney Raymond bought the property, naming it Tinnie after his daughter. Tinnie has changed hands several times — the restaurant, not the daughter.
Still in operation after more than 110 years, Tinnie is now a steak house reportedly once owned by Chicago mobster Al Capone. Its stained glass was imported from Germany, antique furniture from San Francisco, and many paintings are by a local artist — Peter Hurd. Dinners are served Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and there’s a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Or just indulge in artisan truffles and sodas. Or book one of the two casitas for an overnight visit and enjoy a variety of eclectic home décor, which they also sell. More information at tinniesilverdollar.com.
Back in Hondo, the byway continues along US 360 to Lincoln, just 10 miles away. Lincoln was known for famous people like cattle baron John Chisum. It also had a slew of infamous hombres, notably Lawrence Murphy, James Dolan, William Brady, and Billy the Kid. The town today is nearly a mile-long living-history museum. Details at oldlincolntown.org.
Capitan and Smokey Bear Historical Park
Once you’ve had your fill of the Old Wild West, Lincoln style, drive on to Capitan, home of Smokey Bear Historical Park. Remember, I asked you to bear with me.
Operated by the New Mexico Forestry Division, this park and museum explain forest health, wildfires, the science of fire ecology, and a historical look at wildfire prevention. But the best part of this stop is Smokey Bear himself. This is where a black bear cub was brought in 1950 having survived a fire with only burned paws. He was transported to the National Zoo in Washington by private pilots and became a beloved celebrity, attracting the attention of tens of thousands of children of all ages. When he died 26 years later, he was interred where he was born, under the shade of a tree next to a babbling brook.
Smokey Bear Historical Park is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (4:30 p.m. in winter).
Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts
Closing the loop on the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, take NM 46 to Ruidoso. As you approach Alto, you’ll see a futuristic-looking building. This is the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts. The theater exists because Jackie Spencer Morgan, heir to the Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal publishing fortune, wanted to hear world-class concerts without having to travel to New York. She donated $23 million to have it her way! Details and photos of the theater’s stunning Chihuly glass at spencertheater.com.
Flying J Ranch
Just down the road from the theater — before reaching Ruidoso — you’ll find the Flying J Ranch. If you’ve planned your trip right, you can stop for a chuckwagon-style dinner and one of the region’s best Western music performances. Check their website for details or to make a reservation: flyingjranch.com.
Well, you made it — the entire Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, and here you are in Ruidoso, where you began. There’s a lot to learn about the history and culture of New Mexico along the byway — come see for yourself!
Story and photography by Bud Russo
Additional photos by Cheryl Fallstead
Originally published by Neighbors magazine
Note: After the publication of Neighbors magazine we were informed that the Hondo Iris Farm has been permanently closed. That section has been removed from this story.
Posted by LasCruces.com