There are few better places in New Mexico to soak in wide-open prairie vistas, clear skies, and fresh air than in the 230,000-acre Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands. One section of the grasslands is near Clayton and spreads east into Oklahoma and Texas. Another prominent one is about 80 mi west of Clayton, closer to Springer, south of U.S. 56. In the section near Clayton, if you look carefully, you can see ruts made by the wagons that crossed on the Old Santa Fe
Trail. The land was drought-stricken during the Dust Bowl of the 1920s and '30s, when homesteaders abandoned their farms. After that, the government purchased the land and rehabilitated it to demonstrate that it could be returned to the tall grassland native to the region.
For an enjoyable loop drive through the grasslands, head east out of Clayton on U.S. 56; at NM 406 head north to just past Seneca, to where NM 406 makes a sharp turn to the east. Take the county gravel road west 3 mi and north 1 mi, noting the interpretive sign about the Santa Fe Trail. Continue a little farther north to the green gate that leads to the trail (following the limestone markers), where you can see ancient wagon ruts. Except for the occasional house or windmill, the view from the trail is not much different from what the pioneers saw.
Off U.S. 56, north and south of Clayton, Clayton, 87740, United States