In this episode we visit a ghost town and cemetery, walk through a lava field, and finally find a surprise.
White Oaks Ghost Town and Cedarvale Cemetery
The first thing we encountered on our way to White Oaks was the Cedarvale Cemetery.
Near the entrance, a New Mexico historic marker honors Susan McSween—Alexander McSween’s widow from the Lincoln County War story. She moved to White Oaks after selling her ranch holdings and is buried in the cemetery.
Driving up to White Oaks, it’s hard to imagine the town was once the second largest in New Mexico during the 1880s. It teemed with merchants, brothels, saloons, miners, ranchers, and lawyers. People came from the east, bringing their business acumen, architecture, and greed. Cattle rustlers, including Billy the Kid, considered the town a resort.
The town got its start in 1879 when John Wilson, an alleged escapee from a Texas prison, told two friends of his gold discovery in the Jicarilla Mountains. Wilson sold out to his friends, who established two claims, made a profit, and eventually sold them for $300,000 each.
White Oaks may have prospered even after the gold mines petered out had the Santa Fe and El Paso Northeastern railroads selected White Oaks for their route. When I read the Wikipedia article as to the reason why the railroad bypassed White Oaks, it evoked an image of greedy businessmen twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches in anticipation of a bidding war for right-of-ways.
That image vanished when I chanced upon the White Oaks New Mexico Goldrush (WONMG) website. They claim Wikipedia’s account of the railroad, which is not supported by references, is a fictional story repeated over the years by others.
Supported by documentation, WONMG asserts the railroad pulled away from White Oaks after the Lincoln County Leader, White Oaks newspaper, published an unflattering article about Jay Gould after his death. Gould, often referred to as an unscrupulous robber baron, controlled the railroad. WONMG infers the family chose Carrizozo because the article angered them. Gould was the subject of plenty derogatory articles and political cartoons. Would they be so indictive?
No matter the reason, Carrizozo was the recipient of the railroad stop and became the state capitol, while White Oaks continued its demise. There’s still sign of residents in town. One lady came out to water her plants, a handful of cars rolled through the street, and a sign said White Oaks Pottery was closed for the day.
Valley of Fires Recreation Area
After White Oaks, we drove to Valley of Fires Recreation Area managed by U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Created 2,000 to 5,000 years ago, the lava field covers 125 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. In the center it measures up to 160 feet thick.
We found a small visitor center; picnic shelters; 19 campsites (14 with electricity) including sun shelters, water, restroom and shower facilities; and the Malpais Nature Trail.
The 90-degree temps had us slathering on sun screen, donning hats, and grabbing water, before walking the concrete path. Numbered posts and a pamphlet told us what we were seeing.
Only a 10th the size of Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Valley of Fires is still an impressive site and more accessible.
Surprise Find: Art and Wine in Hondo Valley
Twice I had seen a sign advertising the Hurd Gallery while driving through Hondo Valley and by San Patricio on US 70. Not sure what we’d find, we drove to the gallery on our last day.
Below the highway, the Rio Ruidoso runs through the valley of green fields and trees. It felt like leaving civilization behind when we dropped into the valley and St. Jude Roman Catholic Church came into view. Was the adobe-style building 100 years old or more? The sign out front gave away its true origins, recognizing the dates of 1967-2017 as its 50th anniversary. I still liked the architecture so took photos.
From the outside, I thought we had pulled up at a house. A sign directed us to the left. Inside, we found small rooms and hallways filled with paintings, sketches, albums, and memorabilia from five artists representing three generations.
June greeted us and filled us in on each person with works displayed in the gallery. The artists were Michael Hurd, his father Peter and mother Henriette Wyeth-Hurd, NC Wyeth, and Andrew Wyeth.
Peter Hurd studied with N.C. Wyeth, where he met and married Henriette. Henriette had studied with her father from the age of eleven. N.C. Wyeth is best known for illustrations of Treasure Island and other popular stories of his time and created nearly 4,000 works of art. The Roswell Museum of Modern Art houses the largest collection of Wyeth’s work. Henrietta’s younger brother Andrew painted, among other works, Christina’s World, which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The talent of these artists amazed us as we wandered around the small space and dropped into a gallery large enough to hold a party with singing and dancing to the tune of the piano in the corner.
Then we heard about the wine. Beyond the large gallery, we entered the tasting room. We appreciated having the place to ourselves while Elaine filled our glasses with generous pours and told us more family tales.
At one point, Michael came into the room, introduced himself, and hung one of his new paintings. If there had been room in the trailer and space on a wall in my home, I would have purchased one of his paintings. The dilemma would have been selecting which one. We settled on a few bottles of wine.
As we sipped our last tasting, two men arrived. One of them grew up in Dublin, California, the town on the other side of the freeway from us, so we had an interesting conversation. Small world. The other man owned race horses that competed at Ruidoso Downs, one of which won a sweepstake the past weekend, so they were celebrating.
To learn more about Hurd La Rinconada Gallery, the artists, and winery, or to rent one of the four adobe-casita guest homes, go to Hurd Gallery.
Some days, we venture out with no particular expectations. Then wham! We drive through a beautiful green valley, find a renowned art gallery to explore and a tasty selection of wine to drink and buy. And Surprise! We end up with one of our best days in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
That’s a wrap for Ruidoso, New Mexico, a wonderful place to relax and explore. I’ll end with a moving-day sunrise that seemed to say, “Are you sure you want to leave?”
Next Stop: Santa Fe. All aboard.