The route: From Taos, N.M., east on U.S. 64 through Eagle Nest and Cimarron to Raton, then New Mexico 72 to Capulin Volcano National Monument. Return through Raton on New Mexico 325 and U.S. 87.
Miles: About 275 miles round trip from Taos.
Best time: Spring, summer and fall. Two mountain passes and Johnson Mesa are snowy in winter.
Why: You’ll experience segments of two New Mexico scenic byways, the Enchanted Circle and Santa Fe Trail, then travel over remote Johnson Mesa to the Capulin Volcano for an exceptional one-mile hike on the rim around a 60,000-year-old cinder cone.
Highlights: Drive out of Taos to the resort town of Angel Fire in the 8,000-foot elevation Moreno Valley and then descend through Cimarron Canyon past the striking Palisades Sill rock features. The town of Cimarron is steeped in Native American and cowboy history and was a storied stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Past the former mining town of Raton, take a back road onto remote Johnson Mesa for top-of-the-world views of cinder cones dotting the northeastern New Mexico plains below and finally step onto the Capulin Volcano.
Memorable stay: The 1872-era St. James Hotel in Cimarron was the favorite stopping place for many Western legends, including Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. The old-school bar was the scene of many gunfights, and the hotel is said to be haunted by some of the victims.
Memorable meal: Enchanted Grounds Coffee Shop and Cafe in Raton serves breakfast and lunch, with a selection of homemade soups and sandwiches. The Frito Pie is a New Mexico original, topped with homemade chili. I loved the breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, potatoes and Hatch green chiles.
Tourist trap or treat: The historic St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church, an 1897-era building atop Johnson Mesa, is known as the Stone Church, a sturdy reminder of a pioneer settlement. You’ll probably will have it all to yourself on this remote section of the drive.
Plan to spend: About eight hours. Take a camera and sturdy hiking shoes.