The Plains Truth

Pioneer spirit still thrives in this cowboy corner of the state, plus all the creature comforts required to experience it in style.

Why Go Now

After you’ve spelunked the Cavern and feasted your way through Carlsbad, pull on your cowboy boots (or driving shoes) to explore the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains—the heart of New Mexico’s oil-and-gas country. Artesia, Lovington, and Hobbs are company towns that draw entrepreneurial spirits—oil folk, cowboys and cowgirls—who know how to enjoy the fruits of their labors on downtime. Today these towns are humming with culture from craft brews to concerts, and Stetsons and Wranglers are always appropriate.

DAY 1: ARTESIA

Kick off your trip with a visit to southeastern New Mexico’s pioneering past by taking Artesia’s Walking Tour. Departing from the Visitors Center, an historic train depot dating to 1912 (the first year of New Mexico’s statehood), the route guides buffs past 17 historical sites and bronze monuments, some of which memorialize those who have worked the oil patch for which the region is known. Take in the Land of the Sun, a vintage theater that still shows first-run movies today; and the Historical Museum and Art Center, whose Queen Anne–style home is just as notable as its pioneer artifacts. Stop for a coffee break at The Jahva House, one of several restaurants downtown.

Artesian Well

One of the top microbreweries in the state pumps its craft creations out of Artesia. With its name, décor, and five house beers on tap, The Wellhead pays further homage to the oil industry. The sleek restaurant and brew house serves a beer of the month, and comfort dishes such as chicken club sandwiches and the popular chips and queso. Outside town, the Cottonwood Winery serves tastes of regional varieties, such as tobiano, a red table wine.

These Boots Were Made for Working

While downtown, look for the large red boot marking the entrance to Bennie’s Western Wear—a shoe store that dates to 1947 and now sells everything the modern cowboy needs, from carved, sterling-silver snuff-can lids to hand-tooled iPad cases. Chat up ranch hands about beef prices as you shop for vintage boots suitable for saddling up for a cattle drive or strolling through downtown Artesia. Look for Anderson Bean boots; a pair emblazoned with a red zia on yellow leather shows plenty of New Mexican pride. If you have questions about fit, consult Clay Mason, the founder’s grandson, who oversees the family shop.

OVERNIGHT: Handmade Hacienda

In the 1960s, Artesia College students made adobe bricks and constructed the building itself, to use as their art studio and as a gallery for the work of New Mexico painter Peter Hurd; today, it’s the Adobe Rose Bed and Breakfast, and the exposed adobes lend an authentic Southwest feel. Guests can relax in style in the lush courtyard, which has a fountain and gazebo. Each night’s stay includes a continental breakfast, and the Adobe Rose Restaurant, set to open this month, promises lunch and dinner menus of New Mexican classics and meat dishes.

All in the Name

With friendly, efficient service, the casual Chaos Café caters to its rowdy regulars with such breakfast dishes as the Machaca (eggs, jalapeños, tomatoes, and onions, topped with cheese and home-cooked brisket) and pancakes (in whole-grain, chocolate, and blueberry varieties).

DAY 2: LOVINGTON TO HOBBS

Your first stop on Day 2 is the Lea County Museum, in Lovington, a ranching town of some 11,000 residents (and the hometown of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher). The museum preserves 10 downtown buildings, including its first acquisition: the 1918 Commercial Hotel. The buildings aren’t just historic for their turn-of-the-century architecture; their rooms display exhibits on blacksmithing, farm equipment, and significant locals, including New Mexico author Max Evans, who wrote The Hi-Lo Country and who hails from Lea County. Don’t miss the 1908 dugout, an example of the simple dwellings that settlers carved into these barren plains and reinforced with wooden planks. Last October, the museum opened an art gallery, Lovington’s first, that will feature creations by a different artist each month; photographs by New Mexico Magazine contributor Tim Keller are on deck.

Rodeo Capital of the Southwest

Next, head to Hobbs, the center of the state’s richest oil field. The discovery of the field in 1928 spurred the town’s growth, and many of its buildings date to that time. The town’s 40,000 or so residents still believe in the value of hard work, both on and off the company clock—which may account for their successes. Lea County boasts more professional rodeo world champions than any other place in the U.S.—quite a claim to fame for a county with a population of only 65,000. Some have been inducted into the Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame, housed at the Western Heritage Museum. Visitors with questions about rodeos and life on the range should pose them to Gus, an animatronic cowboy who greets visitors in front of an 1881 chuckwagon.

Rare Find

For a great steak in an atmosphere far more refined than a chuckwagon campfire, pull up a chair at Saxony Steakhouse. Housed in the Hobbs Family Inn, the restaurant serves hand-cut rib eyes, fillets, and New York strips prepared by chef Juan Pireto, and offers an extensive wine list. In the adjacent lounge, area musicians play live country music Wednesday through Saturday nights. The inn may resemble a chain hotel, but the personal service here makes for homey accommodations if you’re extending your trip.

MORE SOUTHEASTERN HIGHLIGHTS

TO COMPLETE A CIRCUIT OF THE STATE’S SOUTHEAST REGION, VISITORS SHOULD ADD THESE TOWNS TO THEIR ITINERARIES.

Alamogordo

Often known as a jumping off point for sledding the dunes at White Sands National Monument and exploring nuclear history at the Trinity Test Site, this town of 30,000 boasts several worthy destinations of its own. Alameda Park Zoo was established in 1898, making it the oldest zoo in the Southwest (575-439-4290; ci.alamogordo.nm.us). The New Mexico Museum of Space History is dedicated to local contributions to the space race, and is home to the International Space Hall of Fame (877-333-6589; nmspacemuseum.org).

Feeling peckish? Tour New Mexico’s first and largest pistachio farm—Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves (800-432-0999; heartofthedesert.com).

Cloudcroft

This mountain village hovers over the Tularosa Basin, providing epic views of the White Sands National Monument below. Its popular Lodge at Cloudcroft is a beautiful retreat no matter the season, but this time of year two destinations beckon: the slopes at Ski Cloudcroft (575-682-2333; skicloudcroft.net), the southernmost ski area in the U.S.—and the outdoor James Sewell Ice Rink (575-682-1229).

Ruidoso

A multifaceted mountain retreat, this town offers winter snow sports at Ski Apache (575-464-3600; skiapache.com) and snow play at Ruidoso Winter Park (575-336-7079; ruidosowinterpark.com). Come summer, tee off at The Links at Sierra Blanca (575-258-5330; thelinksatsierrablanca.com) and hike the Lincoln National Forest (575-257-4095; fs.usda.gov/Lincoln). Nearby, the Inn of the Mountain Gods (800-545-9011; innofthemountaingods.com) provides a casino/resort experience with fine dining, golf, and musical acts all on hand.

NEED TO KNOW

ARTESIA

Artesia Visitors Center
107 N. First St.
(575) 746-2744; artesiachamber.com

The Wellhead
Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., closed Sun.
334 W. Main St.
(575) 746-0640; thewellhead.com

Cottonwood Winery
1 E. Cottonwood Rd.

(575) 366-3141; cottonwoodwineryllc.com

The Adobe Rose

From $99
1614 N. 13th St.
(575) 748-3082; adoberosebb.com

Chaos Cafe

Mon.–Sat. 4:30 a.m.–2 p.m., closed Sun.
501 S. First St.
(575) 746-6830

LOVINGTON

Lea County Museum

Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Free.
103 S. Love St.
(575) 396-4805; leacountymuseum.org

HOBBS

Western Heritage Museum andLea County Cowboy Hall of Fame
Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 pm., Sun. 1–5 p.m. $3
5317 Lovington Hwy.
(575) 392-6730; museumshobbsnm.org

Saxony Steakhouse/Hobbs Family Inn
501 N. Marland Blvd.
(575) 397-3251; hobbsfamilyinn.com

 

This article published in the February 2012 issue of New Mexico Magazine.