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There are plenty of things to do with the kids in Southern New Mexico, but here are the five best:
1. Go sledding or have fun crafting. Take the kids sledding the sand dunes at White Sands National Monument. Pick up a round, waxed plastic "snow saucer" sled at the gift shop if you don't have one of your own. Other activities include Crafty Kids sessions with rangers where the little ones learn about wildlife and geology at the world's largest gypsum dune field.
2. Check out the bats. After a descent into the magical underground caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, kids can go batty over the nearly 400,000 Brazilian or Mexican Free-Tailed bats that make Carlsbad Cavern their home each summer. Watch the massive sunset fly-out as bats spiral out of the caves and fill the skies, or rise early to see the bats' pre-dawn return. Bat season varies, but usually runs from around April to October.
3. Enjoy tours and other activities. The Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway hits a host of hot spots in an 84-mile circular drive. Kids will love to follow the trail of Billy the Kid, Southern New Mexico's most famous outlaw, but they'll also enjoy Capitan, home of Smokey the Bear and the Smokey Bear Historical Park. The frontier-style mountain town of Ruidoso makes a great base to explore the scenic byway, with kid-friendly summer activities ranging from horseback riding to the Flying J Ranch Chuckwagon Supper and Western Show, and snow season sledding and tubing at the Ruidoso Winter Park.
4. Head to the farm. Youngsters explore life on the farm at The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. Watch cow milking in the dairy barn, check out sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and donkeys, or play in the pistachio orchards or the children's discovery garden. Demonstrations might include blacksmithing or dowsing, and kids can giddy-up with pony rides on Saturdays.
5. Meet Maggie. Kids will love to meet resident painter, Maggie Oso, the black bear at The Living Desert State Park Zoo and Botanical Gardens, overlooking Carlsbad. Oso’s artistic efforts are for sale in the gift store. She's among more than 40 species of animals living in their natural habitats at the zoo, which focuses on wildlife of the Chihuahuan Desert.