The Mora River Valley portion of the Scenic Byway is drawn in red on the map, and stretches from Las Vegas to Fort Union
This portion of the Scenic Byway takes you along a lesser-known section of the Santa Fe Trail, through the historic Mora River Valley. Along this route you will be able to see some dramatic wagon trail ruts, swales and even ravines. These ruts were occasionally traveled by wagon trains crossing the Santa Fe Trail, although it wasn't used frequently enough for most historians to consider this route a main branch of the Trail. They are nonetheless a part of the Santa Fe Trail and they are some of the best examples of ruts you will see anywhere.
The Mora River Valley portion of the Santa Fe Trail Scenic Byway departs Las Vegas by heading north on State Hwy NM 518 past the Storrie Lake State Park toward the village of Sapello. About 5 miles north of Storrie Lake you can begin to make out the faint impressions (ruts and swales) of the old wagon trails that occasionally parallel the highway. For the next ten miles or so, in places the ruts become increasingly visible.
As NM 518 continues north, you reach the settlement of Buena Vista, where the Scenic Byway turns east on State Hwy NM 161. By the time you have followed NM 161 for two miles, you begin to parallel some dramatic old wagon trail swales and ravines; some of them three and four abreast. Ruts and swales continue to be evident on the north side of the road almost all the way to Watrous; the most dramatic examples occurring around mile marker 17. Some of these ruts and swales are so deep and wide that people assume the ground has been shaped by earth-moving equipment. Not so. These are the remnants of very old and very well worn wagon tracks. Hwy161 leads you along the lower portion of the Mora River Valley through the town of Golondrinas, past Loma Parda and Tiptonville.
Halfway between mile markers 14 and 15 you will pass the unmarked county road leading north to the old ghost town of Loma Parda. You can read about Loma Parda on the back side of this map. The road is open to the public, but only the roadway. The land on both sides is private land. If you decide to visit Loma Parda, please respect the rights of property owners and stay on the road.
On NM 161, at about mile marker 19, you are due south of the ghost town of Tiptonville and are just a few hundred yards southwest of the site of Fort Barclay, originally built where the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Mora River. As Hwy 161 turns back toward the south, you are crossing the plain where the Mountain Route and the Cimarron Cutoff joined back into a single Santa Fe Trail. From this stretch of road you will be able to see many wagon trail ruts. The oldest and most visible ruts are visible uphill from the highway, but several very dramatic sets of trail ravines can be seen crossing the highway. (Look for sets of arroyos or washes running parallel to one another.)
One half mile before you reach the freeway (exit 364 on the south end of Watrous), you can see the old Sapello Stagecoach Station (built by the Barlow-Sanderson Stagecoach Company) which has been used as a private residence for nearly a hundred years now. The long narrow house you see south on Dogie Jones Road is the actual stagecoach building. (Sorry, it is not open to the public). The two trails merged just before reaching this building.
From here, NM 161 continues east and then back north to the town of Watrous, a thriving village in Santa Fe Trail days. As it passes through Watrous, NM 161 curiously enough turns back toward the west once again. The Scenic Byway follows NM 161 west over the freeway and heads to the expansive Fort Union National Monument.