The Enchanted Road

Article excerpt

Folk art, petroglyphs, and Pueblo ruins lie between Albuquerque and Las Cruces in New Mexico

Seeing New Mexico from the interstate is a .bit like reading the Cliff Notes for Lady Chatterley's Lover, the novel by onetime state resident D. H. Lawrence: you save time, cover a whole lot of ground, but end up with a nagging sense that maybe, just maybe, you missed the good parts.

Dedicated followers of backroads never harbor such doubts. Neither did I when, on a recent drive north from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, I eschewed tried-and-true Interstate 25 for a string of two-lane highways. Aside from its scenery, the route provides a range of historic sites that capture different aspects of New Mexico's soul.

The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site south of Carrizozo was my first stop and marks the drive's farthest retreat into the past. Some of the rock art here in the shadows of the San Andres Mountains dates back 1,000 years - the Jornada Mogollon people are thought to have created 21,000 petroglyphs in the area. I'm not counting, just scrambling around in the desert light, looking for those figures with the goggle-eyed faces that are typical of the Jornada Mogollon.

Goggle-eyed probably also describes the gold-hungry prospectors who came to White Oaks. Today this ghost town has just a few fixed-up old buildings housing souvenir shops and the like, but White Oaks is most compelling for its ruins and cemetery.

Bending down for a closer look, I read the spare, Cliff Notes - like information on one headstone and ponder: From his birth in Smytham Torrington, England, just what route, figuratively and literally, brought Mr. Osmund Bassett Scott to such a remote part of such a remote state 30 years later?

I'm no Lawrence, but I can safely guess that it wasn't an interstate.

North of White Oaks is a town where the railroad did stop, Mountainair. Once known as the pinto bean capital of the world, Mountainair is pretty quiet these days, but it's a veritable metropolis compared with White Oaks or the nearby trio of pueblo ruins, known collectively as the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. …