It finally stopped raining. You can deal with most of what autumn throws at you. It’s bright sunshine and nearly 70 degrees one day. The next is gray skies and temperatures that barely budge from their morning low. Even the wind doesn’t faze you. You just start pulling sweaters and scarves out of the closet. But you can’t handle rainy days, specifically multiple rainy days in a row. So after being stuck inside the last few days, you’re ready to play.
The resort town of Ruidoso is known as both a summer and winter destination. Its racetrack and relatively cool mountain air attract tourists during the warmer months, while ski slopes, a tubing park, and cozy wooden lodges call to those who love cold-weather activities. So right now, after the golf courses close but before the gondola starts running at Ski Apache, it’s pretty quiet in Southern New Mexico. Plus, when it’s not raining, it’s still beautiful.
Ruidoso, named after the Rio Ruidoso that meanders through town, is located in the volcanic Sierra Blanca mountain range. For years, it was known as a sleepy mountain town, whose land bordered the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Apache Reservation. But as outdoor sports enthusiasts—everyone from golfers and trout fishermen to hikers and snowboarders—caught on, the little town expanded to include everything from art galleries to casinos.
You approach Ruidoso from the south—El Paso is only two-and-a-half hours away—and watch the desert give way to rugged, pine-filled mountains as you gain elevation. The Sacramento Mountains are to the south. The ski slopes on Sierra Blanca, the highest peak in the range with the same name, are to the west. While low buildings and gorgeous mountain views fill the center of town. Your first stops are the Hubbard Museum of the American West (full of Native American and cowboy memorabilia) and Fort Stanton (an 1855 military garrison), before lacing up your hiking boots in the Lincoln National Forest.
The Lincoln National Forest, named after the esteemed 16th president, was the birthplace of Smokey Bear and his campaign to prevent forest fires. It’s now where you find the National Solar Observatory, whose research focuses on the sun. Rio Penasco, which looks like a little creek, is a haven for brown and rainbow trout, as well as skilled fly fishermen. While trails, like the short Big Bonito Trail and the longer Crest Trail, offer sweeping views of the mountains, the valley, and the cloudless blue sky.
It’s the sunset, not the rain, that ends your outside fun. After the recent time change, the sun now sets around 5 pm. Within an hour, the sky is dark and the trails are hard to follow. It’s time to find your hotel. Between its size and poker tables, the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort isn’t the type of hotel you’d typically choose. But you’re won over with its lakefront setting, modern design, and whirlpool tubs in the suites. Add a caliente cucumber martini and elk tenderloins at Wendell’s for dinner for the perfect end to a perfect fall day.