BLM Recreation Areas

Cowboys, Indians and Outlaws

Southern BLM RV Camping in New Mexico

BLM - Bureau of Land Management. The BLM lands have been referred to as “the lands no one knows” and is overshadowed by its brother in the Department of Interior, the National Parks Service. Most people are very familiar with National Forests and Parks but not BLM recreational areas. Some BLM recreation areas like the State Parks in New Mexico offer RV, tent camping and day use. 

Southern New Mexico has three BLM recreational areas with RV camping: Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, Valley of Fire, and Fort Stanton. Each of these recreational areas are a short drive from one another. They can all be seen on the same day. However, we strongly recommend staying a day or two at each site if possible. 

When time is limited, these recreational areas make great day trips. Three Rivers Petroglyph and the Valley of Fire Recreational Areas are thirty miles from each other but worlds apart in appearance, terrain, and history. One area focuses on the terrain created after a huge volcanic eruption 1,500 years ago and the other area focuses on the people who lived in the area during that time. Fort Stanton was created during the time of the Old West and the settling of the territory of New Mexico after the Mexican-American War. Fort Stanton may be the best preserved Army fort of the Old West.

Before Traveling - The Best Buy Ever. Before hitting the trail, any US citizen who is 62 or older should buy a Senior Pass. The American The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass only cost $10 and is a lifetime pass. This pass can be purchased at most National Parks offices and BLM regional offices. The pass is placed on the mirror of the car and is used by the pass owner and passengers of the vehicle. This pass is useable in over 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies. For some areas the fee for an RV slot is a combination of a site fee + a day use fee. If this is the case then the pass covers the day use fee and one only needs to pay the site fee.   

More about the federal lands pass at:

Leaving Tularosa - heading north on US Hwy 54 to the Recreation Areas 

You will see a sign denoting Horseman's Park when leaving Tularosa. This is a state-of-the-art racehorse training center and private community. Horse racing is big business in this area for a variety of reasons. Race horses require special feed and this feed grows great in the Tularosa basin. Most of the planted fields you see in this area grow feed for the race horses. Why bring the feed to the horses when you can bring the horses to the feed!  Another big reason for racehorse training centers is the elevation. Tularosa is located on the high desert at 4,500 ft. Training a race horse at this altitude increases the animals lung capacity and oxygen carrying capacity. Traveling over the overpass you will see another race horse training facility and farm to your left.

At the time of this writing the Tularosa Speedway, located to your left, is closed but the Tulie Motocross is open and its website is

A large pecan orchard is located between the highway and foot hills to your right. New Mexico is called the land of enchantment. It is also the land of contradictions, contrasts, and is definitely under marketed. New Mexico jockeys for one of the top three slots in pecan production in our nation each year.

Author Note: Backing up and ranting for a bit. New Mexico is remarkable but it fails to “toot its own horn” so many times. New Mexico ranks 36th in population but has the 3rd largest pecan production, 4th largest cheese production, 6th largest oil production, 7th largest movie and tv production, 7th largest natural gas production, 9th largest milk production, and 10th largest solar home electricity production in the United States. If I missed other top unique facts, I apologize. Did you know that most of New Mexico has on average over 300 golfing days per year? 

Mental Detour - C. Hart Merriam and the Life Zone Concept. In 1889, C. Hart Merriam developed the concept of the relationship of elevation and life zones. A life zone is a particular habitat with its own wildlife and vegetation. An illustration of this is the change in wildlife and vegetation from the desert plains to the foothills and then to the top of Sierra Blanca. The valley you are driving in is a high plains desert with scrub, grass, and cactus. Traveling east and up, the vegetation drastically changes until you reach the top of the mountain. The top of Serra Blanca is an island in the sky called an alpine tundra. At this elevation the climate is harsh. The winds are very strong because there is nothing to block them as in the lower elevations. To provide protection from the strong winds these plants are ground hugging and do not grow tall. The extreme cold and crushing weight of snow and ice also cause the plants to be small.

Looking from the desert, east to the mountain top, you see all the life zones in a snap shot. Animals range from the flat land desert rabbits, quail, rattlesnakes, and roadrunners to the higher elevation bobcats, raccoons, mountain goats, deer, mountain lions, black bears and elk. All are living just outside in your field of view between the road and the mountaintop!

Note the different shades of green which illustrate the differences in tree densities. Keep in mind that you are viewing objects over twenty miles away. Many of the rolling hills at the base of the mountain chain are not visible because of the curvature of the earth. Standing upright and looking forward, the ground curves downward from your line of sight at about 3 miles. Viewing across a distance of twenty miles causes objects less than 250 feet tall (about the height of a 25 story building) to be invisible. When you drive from the Three Rivers Trading Post to the mountains, you will see all the sights that are invisible from the road.

Animals hide from view but not vegetation/trees. As you travel this trail, watch for the changing of the trees as you change elevations. Here is a chart to guide viewing.

Elevation in ft. Zone nameTree typeYear Perception

100 - 3500Lower Sonoran Desert shrub 3-12 inches

3500-6500Upper Sonoran Grass, scrub, juniper 10-20 inches

6000-8500TransitionPonderosa pine forest 18-26 inches

8000-9500 CanadianMixed conifer forest 25-30 inches

9500-11500 HudsonianSpruce-fur forest30-40 inches

11500-12700 Alpine-arctic No trees, tundra35-40 inches

The west side of highway 54 is dryer than the east side. Note the lack of grasses and the space between bushes on this dry side of the road. When you turn off the highway and travel east toward the recreational area the vegetation will increase. The road ends several miles past the recreational area at the base of the mountain in a pine forest.

Mental Detour - Dust Devils. Often, on a hot sunshiny summer day in the desert, people observe micro tornados or dust devils. These micro storms can range in size from a few feet wide to 15 yards wide and can rise to a height of half a mile. Dust devils are caused from updrafts and big temperature inversions. Since hot air always rises, air is moving from the very hot desert floor to the much cooler air above on sunny days. When this upward moving air current begins to rotate, a dust devil can be formed. The air rotation will increase the spinning effect of neighboring air until the micro storm is born. These micro storms are generally short lived, lasting only a minute or so, and can travel up to 45 mph. 

The fast moving dust particles also create an electrical imbalance and make charged particles. These moving charged dust particles create a magnetic field and then the charged and magnetic whirling dust particles lift more dust particles off from the desert floor. More dust particles equals more force in an ever increasing wobbling pillar of swirling dust.  This continues until the forces are not sufficient to hold the dust and the storm collapses. If you are listening to over-the-air non satellite radio, then these dust devil pulsating magnetic electrical fields will cause radio signal interference.

Dust devils were not studied until the 1960s, and only then because of their effects on light aircrafts. In the 1970s the dust devils received a more proper name, Thermal Vortices, because their mechanics were studied by planetary geologists. Mars has huge Thermal Vortices (Alien Dust Devils). It is so much easier to study dust devils in the wild (in the desert) than flying to another planet! Also, these storms can be created in the lab. The storms are also called “dancing devils” for the way they move about and Navajo lore says these storms are ghosts or spirits that are moving about.

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 Three Rivers Trading Post -Exit to Recreation Area. Three-Rivers Trading Post is native owned and a great place to stop. The trading post is heated by a double fifty-five gallon barrel wood fired stove. The open raftered building is filled with art, clothes, posters, Indian jewelry,  books, western wear, plus an area with special straw cowboy hats, snacks, drinks and an espresso bar. Where else can you find so much stuff which includes reproductions of the petroglyph drawings on the floor.   Detailed information about the Three River Petroglyphs is available at the Three Rivers store. Site is:

East on Three Rivers Rd. to Three Rivers Petroglyph Site & Recreational Area

Facilities Open Year-round. The site offers five shelter sites with picnic tables and cooking grills (one is handicap accessible); one group site that has three picnic tables under a shelter and two grills; two RV sites have covered picnic tables and grills and water and electric hookups.  Five locations are also established for tent use, within defined boundaries.  One of the tent locations is at the handicap accessible site.  Restrooms and drinking water are available.  Pets are allowed in the campground (on leash), but are not allowed on the trails.The fees at the time of writing are: Day Use (per vehicle) is $5, Camping (per campsite) is $7 and RV Hookup (per campsite) is $18. Senior pass members pay only a fraction of these prices. 

This site is managed by the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, the site office phone number is (575) 585-3457 and the website is:

Ancient Peoples of Three Rivers and the Tularosa Basin. The earliest of the Peoples were hunters of the now extinct mammoth, bison, and early ancestors of the camel and horse. As the game decreased the peoples began to depend on plant food for their survival. Villages began to form with areas for farming. Water has always been the key to survival in the high plains of New Mexico and this area had the needed water. The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site will showcase the early Peoples of the area.

The stone art work or glyphs were created upon a lava type rock found on a small hill above where the ancient peoples lived. This type of rock has a very dark thin exterior covering a lighter interior. By chipping, pecking, or scrapping away the outer surface another surface is revealed. These glyphs will not rot, decay, tarnish or discolor. In many respects these ancient peoples discovered a way of storing information for eons. These glyphs are a record of their times. Removing the exterior is not quick or easy therefore the images were of importance to these peoples.

Over 20,000 glyphs, rock art pictures called petroglyphs, are found in over 50 acres at the recreational area. These petroglyphs were made between 900 and 1400 AD by the Mogollon people. The Mogollon is one of the four major archaeological prehistoric southwestern cultural divisions of American and Northern Mexico. The American Indian culture, known as the Mogollon, lived in the Southwest from approximately 300 AD until sometime around 1400 AD.  

Two marked trails are in the recreation area. The shortest trail is to the site of an ancient village. This .5 mile round trip trail is called an open museum, aligned with informational plackets. The houses in the early village were pit homes. These were dug into the ground several feet and covered with a branch roof that contained a smoke hole. The deeper the pit home, the more the ground provided natural climate control. 

While we were on the trail we were greeted by two small rabbits who watched us just walk along. I cannot promise rabbits on your visit.


The longer trail is up the hill to the petroglyphs. These images scratched on the rocks tell about these early peoples. People, animals, insects, fish, and abstract designs are scratched into the rock faces. Not all the pictures are fully understood because the Mogollon peoples vanished in the mid to late 1400s. 

Examples of these images are shown below with Serra Blanca in the background.  

This site is one of very few that allows visitors direct access to the rock art.

A petroglyph Trail Guide is available at the office. This trail guide can also serve as a treasure hunt. Images are shown and the task of the visitor is to locate the rock containing that particular image. Ten petroglyphs are discussed in the trail guild. The key to the location of each image is located on the back of the guide. 

Please do not venture off the trail. As the warning signs indicate, rattlesnakes abound within this desert area. We saw our first rattlesnake in the wild on this trail. He was slithering along the rocks at sunset. DO NOT PUT YOUR HAND IN THE ROCK CREVICES!

Rattlesnakes.  This petroglyph is of a rattlesnake. Quoting from the Trail Guide at Three Rivers: “Rattlesnakes are common in this area and have been found within the boundaries of the petroglyph and village sites. Stay alert and watch your children and pets.”

Only four venomous snakes exist in the USA and the rattlesnake is one of them. The rattlesnake is a pit viper with tow pits under the nostrils to detect heat. This allows for the detection of warm-blooded animals. The flicking of the forked tongue is literally a way of tasting the air. The scent of a tiny desert mouse can be detected or tasted. The rattlesnake can also detect vibrations of the rocks and ground around them. Prey is hard to find in the desert so the rattlesnake needs more than just its superior vision to find prey. The elliptical pupils of the snakes eyes allow it to see in very dim light which allows for night hunting. 

The mouth of the rattlesnake contains two fangs and no teeth. The snake bites, injects its venom into its prey, and precedes to swallow the prey whole.  The snake then requires days to digest its meal.

Rattlesnakes live underground in dens. The snakes are cold-blooded and require external (outside) heat their bodies. When the snake is too cold it will sun on dark colored rocks to warm. If the temperature is too hot, the snake will be in the shade or retreat to its den. The den is also the location of the rattlesnake during its winter hibernation.  

The rattlesnake can lay up to 20 eggs. These eggs and younglings are not cared for. Once the snake exits the eggs it is on its own. Almost all do not live out the first summer and the few that do will lively die during their first hibernation. The snakes that do survive can live up to 20 years. 

The predator of rattlesnakes are the desert birds of pray. To help survive the rattlesnakes are similar in coloring to their surroundings. The Coat of Arms of Mexico is the depiction of a bird of prey holding a rattle snake while standing on a citrus. This coat of arms is also located on the Mexican national flag. 

Mental Detour: Rabbits & Road Runners. Visitors of the recreation area will often get a glimpse of a rabbit and road runner.  

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Desert rabbits come in two general types, either the big ones with  long ears or the small ones with a white tail. The long eared rabbit, which is not really a rabbit but a hare, is called a Jack Rabbit and the little one is appropriately named the Cotton Tail Rabbit. The Jack Rabbit can weigh up to 10 pounds while the smaller Cotton Tail weights in at 3 pounds.

In nature’s cycle, rabbits and hares are a food source. Rabbits rapidly reproduce, eat desert vegetation, and have little defense except for their quickness to return to their den in the ground which is usually located under a thorny mesquite bush. The Cotton Tail rabbits run in a zigzag pattern up to 19 mph and can jump up to two feet in height. These defenses will only work for so long against a much faster and agile predator and for this reason the cotton tail stays close to its den.


The Jack Rabbit has a speed of up to 40 mph and can jump up to ten feet. With its speed and jumping ability the Jack rabbit can outrun or maneuver many predators. Evading predators allows the Jack Rabbit to forage for food a greater distance from its den. The Jack Rabbit’s large ears also increase its chance of survival in the desert, but for a different reason than most people would think. Predators and prey alike in the desert suffer from the heat of the desert. Water is critical for life and water is very scarce in the desert. Four legged predators cool themselves by panting, similar to sweating, which loses water. Predators are rarely out during a hot day. Exerting energy to run down prey during a hot desert day could be life threatening for any four legged predator. Generally shaded areas in the desert are up to 15 degrees cooler than ones in direct sunlight. A jack rabbit’s large ears act similar to a radiator, allowing heat to transfer with the air. The Jack Rabbit then can cool itself in the shade without losing water. When the Jack Rabbits is running around and eating on a hot day in the desert, it has little risk of being attacked from a four legged predator. When the Jack Rabbit gets too hot, it finds shade and automatically expands the blood vessels in its ears. The rabbit’s warm blood will be cooled by the shaded air. The rabbit will remain in the shade until its body has significantly cooled and can return to finding food to eat. The Jack Rabbit may be safe from a ground attack but not from an air attack. As the four legged predators, coyotes and others, sleep the birds of prey are actively hunting. 

The New Mexico State bird is the Greater Roadrunner. This bird is the fastest running flying bird and has a top speed of over 25 mph (an average human in good shape can only run about 15 mph). Some Pueblo Native Americans held the Roadrunner as a special entity that provided protection from evil spirits. Many also believed that a roadrunner crossing your path was a sign of good fortune. Roadrunner feathers were cherished and decorated pueblos.

This belief of the goodness of the Great Roadrunner could be partly because the roadrunner feeds on many unwanted desert inhabitants such as all types of spiders including poisonous, tarantulas, scorpions, mice and snakes. Small rattlesnakes are even prey for the Great Roadrunner.

The Great Roadrunner can be over two feet long, over a foot tall, with a wind span of two feet, and having a weight of less than two  pounds. This speedy bird is a superior predator of the desert. The footprints of the roadrunner is an “X” and an “X” is found in much Pueblo pottery and in petrography’s.

Author’s Note: On our last visit we saw it all. Rabbits were around our RV campsite and a roadrunner came up close and personal by jumping up on our outside table. On the trail to the petroglyph we saw a large rattlesnake moving in the rocks a few feet away. Wow, we hit the Trifectia.  

Detour from the recreation area down the road to Chapel Road for Santo Nino de Atocha Mission

Travel east on the Three rivers paved road to the end of the pavement. Turn north (left) on the chapel road leading to the mission.

Santo Nino de Atocha is translated to mean “Holy child of Atocha”. At the end of the Moorish occupation in Spain, priests were not allowed to bring aid and comfort to the dying male prisoners held in the Atocha prison. The women of Atocha prayed for a miracle and one day a child dressed as a pilgrim came to the prison carrying a basket of bread and a full container of water. The guards allowed the child to hand out the bread and water and to also give the blessings to the prisoners. When the child left the prison, the baskets were still filled with bread and the container was still filled with water. The women of the community believed that Christ the Child had come and answered their prayers.  A picture of the child Christ carrying food and water is the universal symbol of Santo Nino de Atocha.

People from near and far have traveled to this mission since its construction in 1911, to give blessings, worship, and ask for miracles to help the suffering. At times, items of remembrances are left at the mission. 

Authors note: On our visits to the chapel we saw a small child’s old crutch, many photos of loved ones, small personal items and many candles. This small sanctuary created a special spiritual feeling of reverence. This mission did feel like a place of miracles.

Continuing 10  miles on the Three River’s dirt road to Lincoln National Forest Three Rivers Campgrounds

Unless you have a big tired truck or vehicle, the dirt road can only be traveled at 10-15 mph making the journey to the “end of the road” about a half an hour long. The road ends at the Three Rivers Campground of the Lincoln National Forest. Sheltered areas and hiking trails abound. This area is located in the transition zone ( first evidence of the tree line) and at the base of the Sierra Blanca Mountain range which is the beginning of the Rocky Mountains which move north to Canada.

This journey on the gravel road climbs from 5,000 feet to 6,500 feet in elevation. The change in life zones becomes very pronounced. When you begin you are surrounded with cactus and when completing you are surrounded with tall ponderous pine trees. The temperature will also drop about 15 to 20 degrees F while traveling these 8 miles. 

Cattle-guards. The dirt road lies inside privately owned working cattle ranches. Cattle may be grazing next to the roadway. To prevent the cattle from roaming everywhere, fences define areas in the ranch. The cattle-guard, Texas Gate, stock gap, or cattle stop is a series of metal pipes or rods which allow a vehicle to pass through a fenced area but stops the animals. Cattle do not go where they are not sure footed. When a cow steps on the separated pipes it is not sure footed and will not try to cross the cattle-guard.

Washboard Road. While bouncing along the road you might wonder what is causing the rippled gravel road. As odd as it might sound, tires moving along the road will cause the loose gravel to ripple perpendicular to the direction of the road. The more the road is traveled, the more the rippling or washboarding. Different sized tires or gravel size will not diminish washboarding. Bigger tires and suspension do make traveling down the road feel smoother.

Mental Detour: Odd Code of New Mexico in Old West. Ranch houses, line camps, and homes in the country were left unlocked. It was customary for hungry travelers to enter an empty residence, fix a meal. clean up, leave money or some item of value and be on their way. Even people of questionable character adhered to this code of honesty. 

Three River Campgrounds in Lincoln National forest. This is a rustic campground, with drinking water, tent sites, picnic tables but no electricity. Toilets and camping areas are provided. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trails but horses are. The campground even has corrals for the horses. Passing a rider on a horse while hiking is not an everyday experience, but it happens in New Mexico. 

If your time is very limited then walk the short easy trek from the trailhead (end of the road) to the stream. Take a few moments to enjoy nature. Listen to the sounds of the wind through the tall pine trees. Listen to the mountain stream as it winds its way down the valley. Sit on one of the big rocks by the stream and just take in nature. Take home a pine cone as a souvenir of your visit to nature.

For the experienced and prepared hiker, three longer trails are available ranging from difficult to extreme. These trails proceed up the mountain and climb to an elevation of about 9,860 feet.  For many flat-landers the climbing begins at an altitude of about a mile and going higher up the mountain is very difficult. Always be prepared and be careful. Always know your terrain, environment, and weather conditions before attempting a long difficult hike. Also this is a wild forest containing every type of animal including many predators. Never travel a mountain trail without people knowing where you have traveled.

In the spring and summer time it is best to have some bug spray with you.

The Lincoln National Forest  has a downloadable GPS Track for these trails. A trail map is available at:

Campground site:

Back on US Hwy 54 heading north - Carrizozo - 27 miles away 

Tumbleweeds-Symbol of Southwest. Depending upon the time of the year, the tumble weeds will be in their different stages of life. In the spring and summer bright green round bushes are countless along the road to Carrizozo. These round bushes will grow and grow through the summer months. Once the weather turns cold these bushes die and turn brown. In the spring the plants do something others plants do not do. They disconnect from their roots. Most desert plants allow their seeds to be blown by the wind but not the tumble weed. Spring is very windy in the plains of the Southwest and the tumbleweeds roll with the wind. Rolling along the flat deserts floor to deposit the seeds is a very efficient method of survival. Rolling tumble weeds are an iconic symbol of the Old West.

The tumbleweed is also called the Wind Witch but is actually the Russian Thistle. The Russian Thistle is NOT native to America but was brought over from Russia. The thought was that this plant would be easy to grow in the dry plains and be a great food for cattle. The easy to grow part was correct but the cattle refused to eat the plant.

Depending on the rainfall during the growing months, the tumble weed can vary in size from a basketball to a VW beetle. In some areas these plants can be a big nuisance.  

Tumbleweeds can also be used as decoration. Googling tumbleweed decorations will reveal many ideas for the tumbleweed. Every year along I-40 in Albuquerque someone creates a tumbleweed snowman. 

One of the first songs recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. The Sons of the Pioneers is the oldest continuous performing country-western group in the World. They began performing in 1933. Roy Rogers, western movie and TV star of the 1950s, and the Sons of the Pioneers perform Tumbling Tumble Weed on youtube at

Authors Note: If you are not familiar with this song then I highly recommend listening to it on this journey in the West.

Carrizozo. Spanish for a reed grass, Carrizozo began as a railroad town in 1899. After an unusual rainy season the grass grew several feet high. The extra “zo" was added to indicate that the grass was so very tall. Naming a town after a super tall grass in the old west was a great marketing idea. The town site was in a great location with the gold field to the Northeast, coal fields to the East, lumber to the South east, cattle/farming in the basin, and a railroad terminal to unite all these business together. To grow and prosper the town needed investors and marketing. And they got both. At the time of the towns creation it seems to be a perfect place to invest in and eastern business people did.

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In the early 1900s, Carrizozo was a growing thriving community with a bank, railroad hotel, two drug stores, stores, two churches, and a masonic hall.  The important people of Carrizozo, the largest town in the county, wanted the county seat for Lincoln County moved from Lincoln to Carrizozo. After a four year legal battle, finally decided by the US Supreme Court, Carrizozo was chosen to be the country seat. The community erected a grand court house.


However, in 1960 it was felt a new more modern Lincoln County court house was needed and the picture on the right shows their architectural improvement.

Before people had home freezers, frozen food lockers were rented to store frozen food. The old Frozen Food Locker in Carrazzo has been converted into the Heritage Museum. The museum is open Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm. The old main street is 12th street which is next to the railroad. The museum is at the North end of this street. This same 12th street was totally transformed for the 2009 movie staring Dezel Washington, “The Book of Eli”. Gambit (2012), This Must be the Place (2011), Odyssey (2004), The Outfitters (1999) and Made Love (1995) were also movies shot in and around Carrazzo. As mentioned before New Mexico has a thriving movie and television business. 

The town’s website is

West on US Hwy 380 - Valley of Fire Recreational Area - 4 miles away

In the old west, traveling by wagon, mule, or horse west from Carrizozo was impossible because of a lava flow created 1,500 years ago. This lava flow, covers 125 square miles, 44 mile long by six miles wide and up to 160 feet thick. The lava flow in the Tularosa Basin is the youngest lava flow in the country. Small hills became islands called Kipukas, in the sea of molten lava. The recreation area sits on one of these islands.

Viewing the darkened lava flow it is hard to visualize what it looked like when the event happened. The lava that slowly flowing in the valleys, old stream beds and low lands could have had a temperature of 1,500 degrees F. (An oven has a top cooking temperature of 550 degrees F.)

The lava was mainly composed of molten metals. The searing heat from the wall of lava would ignite all burnable material creating a cloud of smoke. Sulfur from the lava would also have been ignited creating a toxic awful smell, called brimstone. Fire and brimstone would have proceeded down the basin causing total destruction to the land.  

A national graphic film showing a lava flow in Hawaii is found on youtube at:

The lava flow is not smooth because liquid lava pushed against cooler solid lava making a ripple or wave frozen in time. The extreme temperature of the lava caused some rocks to break down (thermal decomposition) and in the process release carbon dioxide which in turn created a gas bubble. During cooling these gas bubbles burst and created collapsed lava formations. Uneven cooling also caused the lava to crack and shear. Today hiking this rugged surface may cause severe damage to soft soled shoes.

As barren and inhospitable as the lava field appears, it teams with life. Looks can be deceiving for more types of vegetation live inside the lava field than outside. The lava field provides shelter from the outside harsh desert environment. 

There are twelve species in the Tularosa Basin - six rodents, five lizards and one snake - that live in the lava flow and have a related group living in the neighboring White Sands area. The ones living in the lava flow are very dark colored or even black while their relatives living in the White Sands are very light colored or even white. The Valley of Fire is place of wonder. This place is also a top place for birdwatching because the lava flow provides easy nest build locations and protection for most predators. Many small caves abound in the lava field and are ideal for the bats.

The phone number of the office at the visitors center is(515) 648-2242.

Their website contains a video and photo gallery to get a preview of this geological phenomenon. Their site is:


Tour of the recreational area. The recreational area is located on a hill surrounded by the lava flow. Entering the recreational area is a sign denoting the fees.  The fees can be placed into an envelope and dropped into the box next to the sign, placed into a box located next to the restrooms/showers or given to a host at the visitors center when it is open.

Site #1 is a day use area. 

Sites #2 and 3 are drive throughs with electricity and water. 

Site #4 is a multiuser site with several tables and grills. Next to site #4 is the beginning of the nature trail.

Site #5 - 7 are pull through RV sites. Sites 8-12 are back-in sites. Site #13 is a pull-through on the edge of hill looking down upon the lava flow. Site #14 is a test site.

Past Site # 14 is the Hilltop vista. At the top of the hill is informative information of the surrounding area along with a pay-for-time binocular. The short hike up to the hill top begins on a concrete pathway leading to natural terrain up to the top. The view is worth the climb.

#15 is last RV site which is a pull-through. #16-19 either tent or RV non-electricity/water hookup sites. Water is located between the sites and a toilet is located nearby. 

Proceeding down the hill on a one way road into the lava field is a Tent Only area for sites #20-25. These tent sites are located in the lava field. Past the tent area is the multi-use area with a large covered shelter, many tables and grills plus a volley ball court. Walking the road in the recreational area provides wonderful things to see. 

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The nature trail is a Must Thing To-Do. This trail is designed for motorized wheel chairs with pavement and concrete. The trail is approximately one mile in length and provides an up close and personal view of the lava flow. Informational markers are located along the trail. Bring your camera/phone for there is so much to share on the trail. Nature Trails brochures are available across the street at the visitors center. The Nature Trail Brochure is available online at::******************

The guided walking trail from the campsite is smooth and easy to walk as compared to trekking into the open lava fields as pictured to the left.

Mental Detour. A few miles away from the lava flow was “the most godforsaken camp and best place to work in the USA”. The camp was Red Canyon Range Camp, the location for the first Nike Ajax training site. The Nike Ajax was the first guided missile antiaircraft system. The camp was planned to be temporary but existed for over six years. Over 400 men were assigned to the camp and many were trained to fire the Nike Ajax missiles. The camp conducted over 800 battery firings. Over 13,000 visitors visited the site with some traveling from 45 foreign countries. Yet, for almost all of the locals in Carrizozo, this site and its operation remained a secret. When the camp was decommissioned, all traces of it and its activities were removed and it became another secret of the desert.

A more detailed story of the camp can be found at:

Detour North on US Hwy 54 from Carrizozo to Co. Rd. 349

White Oaks, a Ghost Town - 12 miles away from Carrizozo. White Oaks was the center of the gold rush in the 1880s. The discovery of gold is a little fuzzy but it makes a great story. Three men, Wilson, Winters and Baxter, joined forces to search for gold in the hills. Wilson found the gold, but as a wanted man he chose to sell out cheap and leave before news of the strike spread. Wilson departed with a few silver dollars, two ounces of gold, and a pistol for his share in the gold strike. Winters and Baxter created the Homestead Mine which they later sold for $300,000 each.

News of the gold strike brought people from far and wide. In 1882 the town had expanded to its greatest population of over 4,000. The community had four newspapers, an opera house, a bank, several saloons, two hotels, a few general stores, a school, a town hall, several casinos, and the ever present brothels found in most gold rush towns. Miners got gold from the mine while others got gold from the miners. White Oaks was known as the “liveliest town in New Mexico” and its seediest part was known as Hogtown. The jewel of Hogtown was the “Little Casino” run by Madam Varnish. She offered games of chance, whiskey, and women for a price. A common practice was to sell whisky in grades good, better, and best, each at its own price. The good, better, and best whisky was not graded but came from the same barrel. In 1884 the first church was built. By the 1890s the gold had begun to play out and the town began to shrink in commerce and population. 

The White Oaks gold mines were the deepest of the free-milling mines in the country. The Old Abe mine was 1,350 feet deep and water free. Free-milling is crushing the ore into a very fine powder and using a simple chemical-free approach for separation. Only extremely pure gold can be processed in this manner. The gold extracted in this area was very pure with an average composition of 90% gold and 10% silver.  The White Oaks mines had a combined output of over 160,000 troy ounces of gold at a value of over $3,000,000 at a time when the average work day was 10 hours long, the average work week was 6 days long, and the average pay was $20 a week.

The death blow to the town came when the gold ran out and the railroad passed the town by. Money, people, and commerce went elsewhere and the town became a very slim shadow of itself. The community is now a ghost/art/tourist town. Any visit to the town requires a stop at the No Scum Allowed Saloon. This self proclaimed “Best Old West Bar in New Mexico” hosts many events in the summers.Their website is

Introduction to Lincoln County in Territorial New Mexico. When New Mexico became a United States Territory everything from property ownership to governance and laws were quickly upended. New Mexico was previously part of New Spain and was populated mostly by dark skinned Spanish speaking Catholics. These people had lived in the area for hundreds of years. New Spain was governed under Spanish law. Washington sent in overlords to manage the new United States Territorial of New Mexico. These governmental officials were white skinned English speaking Protestants. Language, religion, traditions, and skin color separated the officials from those they governed. In this topsy-tubby territorial arrangement, one item became of great importance, land ownership. Many long time residents holding Spanish land grants had their land ownership questioned, lost their land, or had to re-buy it. 

After the civil war, corrupt, greedy and the newly appointed territorial government officials quickly realized that they could own a territory. The corrupt New Mexico territorial  government was called the Santa Fe Ring. The Santa Fe Ring used appointed lawmen and the US Army troops to enforce its will. Government contracts were written without a bid only bribery. Elections were not held but officials were appointed because of favoritism and croneyism. Fines, legal judgements, and fees were used as economic weapons favoring the willing and punishing the opposing. The Territory of New Mexico was ruled as a feudal state. The corruption was so very bad that one of the counties tried an Act of Secession from the territory. 

The Spanish community within the Bonito Valley was renamed Lincoln when it became the county seat of the newly established county of Lincoln. Lincoln was the biggest county in the United States with an area greater than many countries including Ireland. With a size of 27,000 square miles, Lincoln County was larger than ten states in the nation. The power of the county seat was the ability to levee fees and collect fines for the entire county. The Santa Fe Ring wanted to control the entire county through a store nicknamed “The House”. The House controlled everything and everybody.  A portion of the proceeds from The House made its way back to the Santa Fe Ring. A saying of those older times was “the six gun trumped the law books in Territorial New Mexico”.

After the Civil War, the only cash money in the New Mexico Territory was government money. All other commerce in Lincoln County and surrounding areas was either bartered or traded. The only way to get rich was to get the government money. The government paid “cash money” for buying cattle to feed the Army and the Indians on the reservations. Cattle were brought into the area from Texas and eastern New Mexico. There only one store in Lincoln, “The House”, and it set the price for the cattle and all the kickbacks. The US Government paid a certain price. The cattleman received less than this price with “The House” receiving the difference. The difference between what the government paid and what the cattlemen received fueled the corruption all the way to Santa Fe, the territorial capital. By controlling the pricing of goods and services, the value of the cash money could also be controlled. “The House” had more power than the Sheriff of Knottingham in the adventures of Robin Hood. Sheriff Brady along with his gunmen deputies were the local enforcers for “The House”.  “The House” was run by Irishmen, Murphy and Dolan. Robin Hood was a champion of the poor and oppressed. There were no Robin Hoods in Lincoln.

Englishman John Tunstall, from upper-class London, had immigrated to British Columbia at the age of 19. At 24 years old, John Tunstall had much money from successful business ventures and was seeking a new opportunity to make even more money. John Tunstall decided to become a businessman in Lincoln after he met Alexander McSween. McSween discussed in great length to potential for great profits in Lincoln for a smart young businessman. McSween would be Tunstall’s advisor and, of course, share the profits. As a young upper-class Englishman with ambition, confidence, and money, John Tunstall thought he could take control of Lincoln by building a competing store. The Tunstall-McSween store was built and is still standing today in Lincoln. 

The Englishman, John Tunstall, had an immediate dislike for the Irishmen Murphy and Dolan who controlled “the House” and similar feelings were reciprocated. Tunstall discovered he had a powerful ally in John Chism, the largest cattleman in the area. John Chism knew he was being cheated by “The House”. John Chism also had the largest group of gun toting men working for him in the area so no direct threat was made against him by the Murphy-Dolan group. Two opposing groups, Murphy-Dolan and Tunstall-McSween, were each trying to control the vast potential riches in the county. The friction between the two groups set the stage for the Lincoln County War. Each side employed many men who were handy with a gun.

Lincoln County War. The Murphy-Dolan group issued a Lincoln County Order for the confiscation of $10,000 worth of Tunstall’s possessions including several of his horses under a trumped up legal matter. Tunstall decided to herd nine of his horses to town as partial payment. Tunstall along with his four hired hands including William Bonney (Billy the Kid) were herding the horses toward town when twelve Deputy Sheriff  posse members quickly rode up on them. The four Tunstall hired hands quickly dismounted and ran for protective shelter some distance away. John Tunstall remained on his horse facing the approaching posse. The posse stopped and without warning fired on John Tunstall. He was killed instantly from a shot to the head and upper chest. Tunstall’s horse was also shot. A posse member dismounted, retrieved Tunstall’s pistol from his lifeless body, fired two shots into the air, and returned the pistol back to the body. The posse rode away as quickly as they arrived. John Tunstall was dead at the age of 25. Posse members later declared self defense at an inquest about the circumstances of Tunstall’s death. Posse members also claimed that John Tunstall had fired on them and cited as evidence Tunstall’s pistol containing two fired bullets shells.

William Bonney and the other men who saw the incident rode to Lincoln with the news of Tunstall’s death. Under the authority of the Justice of the Peace, John B. Wilson, new Deputy Lincoln Constables were sworn in to help handle Tunstall’s death. William Bonney was now a Deputy Constable and member of a group later called “The Regulators”. The Regulators were deputy constables seeking retribution for the death of Tunstall and they soon declared war against the Murphy-Dolan group. Each group claimed the law was on their side and the war began. One side had Sheriff Deputies while the other had Justice of the Peace Deputies. Many of the Deputies on both sides were known gunmen and wanted outlaws including Billy the Kid.

The Lincoln County War was not a war of good vs evil but greed and power vs greed and power. In the day, much press was devoted to the Lincoln County War. Readers across the nation followed the happenings of the war. News of gunfights in the West sold papers and the Lincoln County War had many gunfights. New Mexicans wanted the Territory to become a state but the bad press from the Lincoln County War was bad for statehood and business. The war ended to be stopped.

Soldiers from Fort Stanton arrived in Lincoln to support the side of Murphy-Dolan. The troops surrounded the McSweeney house occupied by The Regulators. The troops had firepower beyond the Regulators - a cannon and a gatling gun. The troops fired on the house, set fire to the house, and tried to shoot anyone who escaped the burning house. Billy the Kid and a few of The Regulators were able to escape. 

US President Rutherford Hayes removed the corrupt New Mexico Territorial Governor Samuel Axtell and appointed General Lew Wallace to be governor. For a short time Billy the Kid was in protective custody at Fort Stanton because Governor Wallace was trying to end the war. Governor Wallace declared a general amnesty to all participating in the war who were not under indictment. The added words “not under indictment” were needed because of the number of wanted criminals participating in the war. Anyone who thinks think the story should end at this point, does not know the gunmen of the Old West. The participants of the war gathered in town thinking they were ALL free of prosecution. Being free of prosecution meant a celebration. The gunmen celebration involved whisky, lots of whisky. During the celebration guns were drawn, shots were fired, and the amnesty deal went up in gun smoke. The Old West had a saying. 95% whisky and gunpowder do not mix well and that was certainly true that day. The story of Billy the Kid does not end on that day because a price was put on his head and Billy the Kid was once again officially a wanted outlaw.

A reward notice from the Governor’s office was posted Dec. 1880 in the Las Vegas (New Mexico) Gazette read

Billy the Kid

$500 Reward

I will pay $500 reward to any person or persons who will capture

William Bonny, alias The Kid and deliver him to any Sheriff of New Mexico

Satisfactory proofs of identity will be required.

The name Bonny was misspelled in the notice.

In the days of the Lincoln County War, an average wage was $1 a day. A $500 reward was a huge amount of money. The words “any person who will capture” meant an open invitation to bounty hunters and gunmen to pursue Billy the Kid. Also in the old west days, wanted posters rewards would be paid if the person was killed in the process of being captured. The reward notice did not state: “Wanted Dead or alive” ;the meaning wasunderstood. While on the run, or so the story goes, an intoxicated gunman named Grant loudly boosted he would kill Billy the Kid on sight and collect the reward. Grant had never seen Billy the Kid in person. A young man, while listening to Grant’s boosting, asked to see Grant’s pearl handled six shooter. The gun was handed to the young man, Billy the Kid. 

In those days only five of the six cylinders held a bullet. The empty cylinder was located below the firing pin to prevent an accidental discharge of a bullet. When the pistol was cocked the cylinders would rotate one place and the firing pin would be above a live round. While Grant was ranting about his prowess in gun fights, Billy the Kid moved the cylinders back one notch. This action meant that when the gun was cocked the firing pin would be above the empty cylinder. Grant holstered the pistol after it was returned to him. “The Kid” announced who he was. Grant drew his pistol, cocked it, pressed the trigger, and heard the sound of a click when his firing pin hit the empty cylinder. Billy the Kid immedIately shot and killed Grant while later saying, “It was a game for two and I got there first.” In the movie “Young Guns”, Billy the Kid removed all the bullets before handing the gun back. The result was the same. The gunman hunting Billy the Kid was dead.

Please view the 21 minute history video listed below. The video gives a great condensed history of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County war.The excellent video is titled “Lincoln Historic site Orientation”.

Side note. Governor Lew Wallace wrote the last part of his novel Ben Hur while in Santa Fe. Ben Hur was first printed in 1880 and is still available today in many forms. The novel was considered the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century. In the late 1800s Ben Hur was the second best selling book in the nation only surpassed by sells of the Bible. The story, Ben Hur, is about a Jewish Prince, captured by the Romans, who became a slave and later a Roman charioteer. Ben Hur’s life changes when he learned about Christ. Ben Hur transformed himself and became a devout Christian. The 1959 Ben Hur movie was the most expensive movie made to date and became the biggest box office success of its day. The new Ben Hur movie is to be another high budget major picture.

billy kid vs dracula poster.preview

Billy the Kid. The Lincoln County War created the most famous wild west character, Billy the Kid. The name Billy the Kid is the most recognized name of any old west outlaw in the world. More media attention has been given to this old west outlaw through the ages than any other. Billy the Kid  holds the record for the most motion pictures made about a single individual in the history of filmmaking. 60 movies, 4 television shows and 1 ballet has featured Billy the Kid. “Young Guns” is classified as the best and most accurate dramatization of the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid. This is a very intense “R rated” movie and is not for the faint of heart or children. At the time of this writing, the movie “Young Guns” could be rented with live streaming from several sources. 

Billy the Kid was less that 21 years old at the beginning of the Lincoln County War. Crazy and deadly young men do crazy and deadly things. Billy the Kid’s group “The Regulators” featured in the movie were crazy deadly young men. Billy the Kid movie ever made is featured in this movie poster.

A trailer for Billy the Kid vs Dracula can be seen at

Lincoln to Ft Stanton. Proceed on US 380 for 7 miles and turn onto NM 220  

800px-Fort Stanton HQ - 2

Fort Stanton - 3 miles away on NM 220

Ft. Stanton has had many lives and below is a brief chronological listing:

*1855 - Fort Stanton was established to provide protection from Indian raids for settlers and wagon trains traveling within the area.

*1861 - Members of the Confederate Army captured the union fort, stole its supplies and burned it .

*1862 - Kit Carson reoccupied the fort and began to rebuilt it. The fort was providing protection of the surrounding area from outlaw gangs and Indians.

800px-Fort Stanton Admin Bldg - 1

*1878 - Soldiers from the fort arrived in Lincoln supporting the side of Murphy-Dolan. The troops surrounded the house occupied by The Regulators (Billy the Kid’s group). The troops set the house on fire and tried to shot anyone who tried to escape. Billy the Kid and a few of The Regulators were able to escape. Later, Billy the Kid was in held in protective custody at the fort because the new Governor of the New Mexico Territory, General Wallace, was trying to end the Lincoln County War.

*1892 - The fort was closed because threats from outlaws and indians had disappeared.

*1899 to1953 - The fort became a tuberculosis hospital for the United States Merchant Marines. Common names for tuberculosis are: consumption or the White Plague. The United States Merchant Marines are seamen who served on United States owned ocean vessels. Over 5,000 sailor were patients of the hospital between 1899-1953. 1,500 Merchant Marines are buried in the cemetery just outside the fort. (The US Merchant Marines suffered the greatest casualty rate of any service during World War II, but were denied veteran status or benefits until 1977.)  A detailed account of the “Healing Consumptive Sailors” can be found at:

*1930s - The fort served as a CCC work camp.

*1941 to 1945 - The fort became the first civilian internment camp in World War II. The German luxury liner the SS Columbus was sunk off the coast of Cuba before the United States was involved in World War II. The male crew of the German ship Columbus were not in the military but were of military age. It was determined that these crew members were to be held within the United Sates in a remote ares until the end of the war. The first group of 39 civilian German seamen arrived at Fort Stanton. These men refurbished and expanded the CCC work camp. Eventually all 410 Columbus crew men were at Ft. Stanton. As the war progresses more German seamen were sent to Ft. Stanton until its population reached 652. The Germans were allowed to built and expand the facility to include a gymnasium, gardens, roads, cabins, soccer field and even a swimming pool. The Germans started a farm and provided food for the fort. The German farmers were paid for the excess food they grew and sold. The camp had a German library and social center. Personal items: cigarettes, candy, ice cream soft drinks and even home-made beer (two bottles per day was the official limit) could be purchased from the canteen. The German seamen worked in a voluntary capacity for profit which differed greatly from POW camps.  Few items remind of the German seamen five year stay. Above the door way to the now crumbling gymnasium is “Erbaut *1944” translated “Built 1944”.

*1953 to 1997 - The United States military fort was given to the state of New Mexico. While under state control the property became many things from a state hospital, minimum security women prison, later a juvenile detention center and finally a drug rehabilitation center. 1995 state operations of the fort were closed. The state put the property for sale..

*1997 - A non-profit was formed to save the property and begin a program of renovations, repair and upkeep of the property.

*2007 - The fort became Fort Stanton State Monument and is in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM controls the land surrounding the fort.

Present - Fort Stanton is located on 240 acres surrounded by 1,300 acres of undeveloped BLM land. Viewing the undeveloped land is a look into the past and the land of the Old West. A few of the 88 buildings on the property date back to the days of the Lincoln County War. Admission to the grounds is free but a donation is greatly appreciated.

The summers are filled with events at the fort. Check the site for event dates and other news. The site is fact filled and offers many pictures of past events at the fort. The museum is not alway open, call 575-354-0341 for museum information.

Official site of Fort Stanton is:

Another Fort Stanton site is the New Mexico Historic sites at:

Fort Stanton Cave. The Fort Stanton Cave was discovered in 2001 and is thought to be the longest continuous cave formation in the world. At the time of this writing over seventeen miles of passageways have been explored and more areas have yet to be surveyed. The cave is not open to the public at this time. The cave is also called Snowy River Cave because when the cave passageway was discovered it resembled a river of snow. 

Cave news and images of this cave are on the site:

Great video of cave at: