Road Trip: Las Cruces to Roswell with 15 Must-See Stops
Baskets on display at the Mescalero Cultural Center.

With a nickname like “The Crossroads,” you can figure out that Las Cruces, New Mexico, is a city from which many a day trip and road trip can be launched. To celebrate my late-January birthday, we decided to camp at Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell and make it a road trip adventure. We were traveling with our little dog, Penny, so I’ve noted places that were dog-friendly. Here and in the many linked articles, you’ll find lots of ideas for your own road trip across southeast New Mexico.

Road Trip Section 1: Las Cruces to Alamogordo (65 miles)

Without getting very far from Las Cruces, there are some perfect stops for folks who are into space. The Space Murals Museum and Gift Shop is near Organ, just east of Las Cruces on Highway 70 at NASA Road. Explore a water tank painted with murals depicting the history of the space program and a museum and gift shop. It’s free to visit, but donations are accepted.

Old stone building in Organ, New Mexico, with a sign that reads "Sandwitches Lunches Beer Dinner" that you'd see on a road trip from Las Cruces to Roswell.
The old restaurant in Organ, New Mexico, just east of Las Cruces.

As you drive through Organ, you may want to stop and take a look around the area, which was a mining camp before the Civil War and has never been incorporated. I’ve always found the long-closed restaurant that once offered “sandwitches,” lunches, beer, and dinners fascinating. You can see the old school and cemetery and a different restaurant may even be open when you go through if you’re hungry already.

Just after you pass the crest of Highway 70 in the Organ Mountains, you’ll see the San Augustin Pass Overlook with a Nike Hercules Missile on display. Stop here for a view of White Sands Missile Range and the expansive Tularosa Basin. A little further is the exit for Aguirre Spring Recreation Area and Campground, where you can go hiking and camping. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails.

But since we just left town, let’s push on a little further to another space-themed stop: the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park. Take the exit for WSMR and at the gate, you can get a pass to walk over to the museum and explore the frontier army that was here in the 1800s, early ranching in the Tularosa Basin, the Manhattan Project, Bataan Death March, rockets — including the V-2, and more. An outdoor exhibit features a wide range of missiles. It’s free to visit, but you’ll need to show your ID to access the base. Leashed dogs are allowed in the missile park. WSMR is also the home of the Bataan Memorial Death March, which takes place each March and attracts marathoners from around the world.

White Sands National Park Sunset Stroll is guided by a ranger. It's a great road trip stop.
A ranger-guided Sunset Stroll at White Sands National Park.

After your stop at WSMR, get back on Highway 70 and keep heading east. In about 35 miles, you’ll get to White Sands National Park, the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Here you can hike, explore the unique plants and animals that make this ecosystem their home, take part in a sunset stroll with a ranger, and stop by the visitor center and gift shop. Leashed dogs are welcome to enjoy the park and visitor center.

Holloman Lakes, showing water in front with the shoreline behind. Campers can stay here free.
Holloman Lakes offers birdwatching and free dispersed camping.

Just a bit past White Sands is an easily missed stop, Holloman Lakes, which is on the other side of the highway just about four miles east of the park entrance. It’s part of Holloman Air Force Base and is considered an important wetlands area for shorebirds by the National Audubon Society. Migrating ducks and shorebirds can be found here. A bonus is that free dispersed camping is allowed, although there are no services or water provided. It’s the closest place to White Sands National Park that you can camp as there is no camping at the park.

Next up is the city of Alamogordo. If you want to continue the space theme, you can visit the Space History Museum, operated by the State of New Mexico. The museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits and a dome theater/planetarium. If animals are your thing, visit the Alameda Park Zoo. Got a train lover along on your road trip? Visit the Toy Train Depot. You can also grab lunch or stock up on snacks in Alamogordo. If you want to camp for a night or just explore another interesting nearby location, check out Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.

Road Trip Section 2: Alamogordo to Ruidoso (51 miles)

Between Alamogordo and Tularosa, Highway 70 is also Highway 54. If you are hankering for a healthy snack, there are places to stop just before Tularosa to grab a bag or two of delicious pistachios. In the village of Tularosa, there are some restaurants and shops you can explore. Stop at the Original Townsite District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Saint Francis of Paula church. Readers of Michael McGarrity’s books will be familiar with Tularosa. A great side trip from Tularosa is Three Rivers Petroglyph Site (note that dogs are not allowed on the petroglyph trails).

An often-overlooked road trip stop is St. Joseph's Apache Mission Church in Mescalero. This is the interior of the church.
An often-overlooked road trip stop is St. Joseph’s Apache Mission Church in Mescalero. There is an Apache Jesus above the altar.

Continuing on Highway 70, perhaps while munching on pistachios, you’ll want to stop in Mescalero, part of the Mescalero Apache Reservation. We visited St. Joseph Apache Mission Church, a beautiful stone building with stained glass windows and artwork that incorporate the Apache into Christian stories. An Apache Jesus is displayed above the altar. The church was completed in 1939, although improvements such as the addition of windows continued after that.

Mescalero Apache ceremonial dresses on display at the Mescalero Cultural Center.
Stop at the Mescalero Cultural Center to see displays about the history of the Apache people.

Just off the highway, visit the Mescalero Cultural Center and Museum, which shares a large parking lot with a tribal store. Here you can visit with the director, Joey Padilla, who is also an artist and medicine man who performs the maidens’ puberty ceremonies each summer. We enjoyed visiting with Joey and exploring the exhibits that feature ceremonial dress, baskets, pottery, and Apache history. Penny was allowed to visit with us. The museum is free, although donations are accepted. Add this location to your itinerary to learn about the people whose land you are driving through on your road trip.

Another stop on the Mescalero reservation is the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a resort and casino operated by the tribe. Try your luck, eat a fine meal, enjoy the beautiful building and view of the lake, stay in the hotel, or take advantage of the RV park. If you’re gassing up, note that the gas stations near casinos often have the best prices.

The Ruidoso mural. Ruidoso makes a good side stop on a road trip from Las Cruces to Roswell.
The Ruidoso mural. Ruidoso makes a great stop on your road trip.

Next up is Ruidoso, named for the noisy river that tumbles through the area. You can find lots of information about Ruidoso here. It’s a very popular place to visit, camp, stay in a cabin, grab a meal, or shop. Many places in Ruidoso are quite dog friendly. You’ll have to turn off Highway 70, but it’s not far. You can also make a stop at Ruidoso Downs, home of the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino.

Road trip section 3: Ruidoso to Tinnie (38 miles)

A painting depicting a Portuguese galleon by Peter Hurd at the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery.
Be sure to stop at the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery, where you can see works by generations of painters, like this painting depicting a Portuguese galleon by Peter Hurd, which is reminiscent of his father, N.C. Wyeth’s, illustrations.

Now we’re at a higher altitude with Ponderosa pine trees, and there are several small villages and communities you might zip by, but you’d be missing some gems. You’re now on the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway and Glencoe is the first stop, which is steeped in Old West history, like Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War.

You can explore the exterior of lovely little St. Anne’s Church which is only open for Sunday services and stop by the Ruidoso River Museum (it’s near a business that used to be called Fox Cave but now sells one of New Mexico’s most recently legalized items).

The next stop is San Patricio. The main reason to stop here is to visit the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery, which celebrates the art of three generations of the Hurd and Wyeth family, starting with painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth, his daughter Henriette Wyeth who married her father’s student, Roswell native Peter Hurd, and their son, Michael. You can see art by all of them in the gallery and museum, but that’s not all.

Michael Hurd now owns 2,400 acres on both sides of the Rio Ruidoso. The property includes eight guest homes of various sizes that can be rented and Sentinel Ranch Winery. Attached to the gallery is the wine-tasting area that also offers a menu of charcuterie trays and other tempting fare.

When we stopped by, we had a lovely visit with Executive Director Joan Park, whose family has lived in the area for generations and had some great stories to tell, and Michael Hurd. Michael, who is in his 70s and still a working artist, explained that he was taught from an early age that you must protect the land. He is currently working to preserve his land in perpetuity. Beautiful meadows can be seen as you sip wine on the lovely patio of the tasting room or hike the trail along the river while you look for birds. It’s such a great birding location that Michael laughed, “It’s for the birds.”

Exterior of the Tinnie Silver Dollar restaurant in Tinnie, New Mexico.
If you time it right, you can stop for a meal at the Tinnie Silver Dollar.

We headed out of San Patricio to the next stop, Tinnie, which was named for the adorable daughter of the Raymond family who at the time ran the mercantile and post office. Tinnie hit the big time in 1959 when oilman Robert O. Anderson bought the mercantile and built the Silver Dollar bar and steakhouse. He bought a barback from one of Al Capone’s bars in Chicago and had half of it installed at the Silver Dollar and the other half at The Lodge in nearby Cloudcroft. The restaurant, with casitas, is still in business but is only open Friday through Sunday. We, of course, drove out on a Thursday and back on a Monday, so we missed it both ways! The Silver Dollar has extensive grounds with water features and outdoor dining areas. I caught a glimpse of the famous bar by peeking through the window. So, if you have a hankering for a steak dinner in a historic restaurant, time your travels well or make it a day trip from Roswell.

Last leg: Tinnie to Roswell (44 miles)

Finally, we made a quick stop to see the historic marker for the Atlas Missile at mile marker 313.5. During the Cold War, this area was home to 12 Atlas Missile Silo sites, the country’s first operational Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System, which protected the Strategic Air Command facilities at Walker Air Force Base south of Roswell. The sites were deactivated in 1965 shortly before the air force base was closed. The 12 silo spots are now on private land, but we spotted one nearby on the other side of the highway.

Your next stop is Roswell. You can read by story about it here. For our trip, our main destinations were the city, Bottomless Lakes State Park where we camped, and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

From Las Cruces to Roswell the trip is about 185 miles, and even towing our little camper we only expended a little more than half a tank of gas to get there. Without any stops, it is just over a three-hour trip. But what fun would that be?

Story and photography by Cheryl Fallstead

Cheryl Fallstead loves exploring the outdoors and nature while visiting new places. She often travels with her husband, Brian, and little dog, Penny.

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