VOLANTE Jody Miller heads for the hills and discovers Ruidoso, New Mexico’s irresistible allure
Photographed by the author
Jody Miller is a correspondent for Lucire.
New Mexico has multiple personalities. They run the gamut from the kitschy-campy alien-invaded Roswell to the glam galleries and posh resorts of Santa Fe and Taos to the funky flair of Albuquerque’s university neighbourhood. New Mexico is all that, but there’s another flavour in the mélange. This lesser-known destination, Ruidoso, is bold, spicy and bursting with earthy essences.
Although it may be home to only ten thousand of the state’s two million residents (plus a few ghosts of Billy the Kid and other infamous outlaws), it is also home to a gold rush of outdoor activities, great food, history, and hospitality. You don’t have to give up all the comforts of a resort vacation to experience this hidden treasure, but why not take a walk on the wild (west) side, or come for a big bear hug from Smokey himself?
Situated at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, Ruidoso is a three-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso. If you’re coming from El Paso, you’ll want to make time to stop (or a day trip, time permitting) at one of the planet’s great natural wonders, White Sands National Monument. This otherworldly site consists of 710 km² of natural gypsum sand dunes making up a moon crater-like landscape that is celestial and overwhelming in its beauty Explore by your lonesome or take advantage of guided sunset walks, late night star-gazing, or any number of educational or adventure resources.
Moving right along
Ski Apache, with over 750 skiable acres, 55 trails and 11 lifts, is one of the nation’s top secret ski destinations. Being a bit undiscovered is part of the allure. The challenging trails for experts, beginner runs for novices, and intermediate runs for those ready to kick it up a notch are what make it a true find. The gondola, soaring 11 minutes upwards to the peak of Sierra Blanca at 3,500 m, is not to be missed.
That’s just the beginning of the fun. Hiking, mountain biking, music and food festivals, and two of the highest and fastest zip lines in the country. Get an unobstructed view of the Valley of Fire or sip tea at the Yurt before heading back to earth. For adventures of the four-wheeled kind, Back Country Attitudes takes you on an all-terrain-vehicle wild ride through the wilderness. This three-hour tour is nothing like the SS Minnow. You’ll be securely strapped in and in safe hands. No getting lost or stranded and your guide will have you in stitches (the laughing kind) the entire time.
Let your spirit and appetite soar
Craft capitalism may not yet be in the Urban Dictionary, but just one day and night in Ruidoso is all you need to fully understand how it defines Ruidoso foodie culture. Many of Ruidoso’s “craft-trepreneurs” are Texas transplants from Austin, Dallas, and Houston equipped with a dream, perseverance and a bottomless can-do spirit. Lost Hiker is a favorite of hip millennials, with onsite cauldrons that brew specialty ale, plus a stage for live music. If you don’t mind a little drive to historic Lincoln, Bonito Valley Brewing Co. is an independent microbrewery that will fill your belly with great beer and your ears with dangerous local history. The vintage claw foot bathtub in the oversized bathroom is worth a peek, too.
Home of Sierra Blanca Brewing Co.’s quirky alien-themed brews, Rio Grande Grille &Tap Room is a must to wash it all down with the best steaks around and other tasty fare. And speaking of the best, the newly reopened Circle J BBQ has hands down the best dry-rubbed beef brisket you will ever try.
Award-winning Noisy Water Winery imbues just enough Napa Valley æsthetic to its high-beamed ceiling wine room to transport you to California’s Central Coast. The elegantly ambient space is also a popular event venue.
If the town had a king and queen it would be Will and Rebecca Ponder. The refuse-to-retire Texas couple own and operate some of Ruidoso’s beloved gathering spots, including Sacred Grounds Coffee & Tea and their crowning glory, Glencoe Distillery. They also oversee Mountain Entertainment Group for the Arts, which brings Broadway-style productions plus name and up-and-coming musical acts.
Ruidoso may be small in size, but its heart is big and the surfeit of festivals and events may be even bigger. Brewdoso, Chile the Kid Food & Wine Festival and the Mountain Smoke BBQ Festival attract foodies and hungry folks from all over. Music lovers converge annually for the Rio Bonito Folk Fest and the All-American Country Music Festival in addition to a robust live music scene. Sports, art, and nature lovers can get a festival fix year-round.
Fashionistas beware: the only thing missing from Ruidoso’s eclectic Midtown shopping village is inflated price tags. The vibrant mountain esplanade is home to boutiques, galleries, and cafés suited to every taste. From pretty frocks and fine art, to cowboy boots, handcrafted jewellery, and adventure gear, Midtown is a pretense-free shopping paradise. If you can make it for next winter’s holiday season, Midtown is transformed into an enchanted wonderland featuring horse-drawn sleigh rides and cascades of twinkling lights.
Rustic does not equate to a lack of pampering. With a plethora of wellness centres and spas, Ruidoso is a magnet for mind and body healing. Helmed by life coach Debbie Nix, Sanctuary on the River is a picture perfect retreat, wedding and event space, and holistic spa. Cooking classes, hypnotherapy, yoga and therapeutic face and body treatments and but a few of the offerings at this quaint yet powerful whole body centre.
The Spa at Inn of the Mountain Gods, situated on Lake Mescalero, is a premier full-service luxury day spa. Taking advantage of the region’s natural resources and inspiration from its original inhabitants, the newly renovated spa is a haven of tranquillity and pampering. •
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