We’ve come back to the Alamogordo area just about every two years – it’s a place we enjoy visiting and always find something new. The usual response from our friends when we tell them where we’re going is whaaa? But as you'll see, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
We started this visit with a trip to the New Mexico Museum of Space History, an imposing building located high above the town. We’d never visited, and were surprised by the extensive collection of exhibits and interesting history displayed throughout the building. After buying your ticket, you take an elevator to the top floor and work your way down, an easy way to tour the building. Space exploration owes a lot to the work done by scientists at White Sands Missile Range located just down the road, and many of the original test vehicles are on display. We had fun trying to master (unsuccessfully) the Space Shuttle Simulator. It provided a fairly realistic experience of trying to land the shuttle at Edwards AFB, complete with shuttle controllers consoling you after you crashed and burned (“nice try, but let’s flare the shuttle next time so we don’t punch through the runway”).
Along with lots of interesting items inside, the outside area has a number of interesting items, like the remains of a crashed V-3 rocket, a section of rocket sled, and various missiles and rockets. And of course “Astronaut Ice Cream” in the gift shop. A neat place, well worth stopping by if you’re in the area.
We always spend time in the Sacramento Mountains. The tall pines, cool temperatures, and even a bubbling stream or two are a huge contrast to the desert below. The small town of Cloudcroft is a gem, and we enjoy the drive from there to Ruidoso on highway 244, which meanders through beautiful mountain meadows and forest.
From Ruidoso, a bustling year-around resort town, we headed North, passing the impressive Spencer Theater of the Performing Arts, to Fort Stanton, one of the truly unique places that we’ve visited. Originally a Calvary post, it has served as a Merchant Marine hospital for tuberculosis patients, an internment center for WWII prisoners, and a state hospital. Now a state monument, it’s an interesting place to explore.
One of the surprising sights is the Merchant Marine cemetery complete with anchor and chain. There’s a small museum where you can learn more about the fascinating history of this almost-forgotten fort.
Continuing down the mountains, we stopped at Capitan, a small town and the home of the Smokey Bear Historical Park (notice that there’s no “the” in the name). The park has a nice museum that tells the story of the little cub that was found after a fire, burnt and clinging to a tree, and how the Forest Service turned him into a symbol for fire prevention. There are some interesting exhibits from the 50’s and 60’s, and in the attached garden, you can visit the gravesite of Smokey, where you learn that Smokey, as an official civil service employee, was retired after 25 years of service. This is an interesting place to visit, and children especially will enjoy all of the interactive exhibits.
Up the road from Captian, we headed into the foothills of the Lincoln National Forest to the semi-ghost town of White Oaks. Once a booming town of 5000 souls, when the gold ran out, so did the people. What remains is a hodgepodge of historic buildings, weather-beaten houses and mobile homes, a small museum, and the social center of town, the No Scum Allowed Saloon. There wasn’t much of anything to see here at this time of year, and unless you’re in the mood for a cold beer at the No Scum Allowed, we can’t recommend going out of your way to visit.
That’s it for this week, stay tuned for our next entry, the All-Billy-the-Kid Blog!