It dawned a beautiful mid-November Saturday in the New Mexico high desert. Darlene’s shingles continue to wear her down quite a bit, but she was up for a day trip somewhere. We’ve seen much of New Mexico starting with a few trips in the 1990s from Grand Junction and then during the Pagosa Springs years we were constant visitors – mostly to the northern part of the state – Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos – but there were also excursions to Silver City and Las Cruces and other places. One place we’d never been was Ruidoso. It is about 150 miles from home in Belen. So we headed south on the interstate this Saturday, stopping for a breakfast burrito at Sophia’s in Socorro, and then headed southeast on a two-lane the 90 or so remaining miles up into the mountains of this southern range to Ruidoso.
Many think of New Mexico as being only flat and desert-like. There is a lot of that in the state, but mountains are also a significant part of the topography. The drive east from the interstate just south of Socorro starts by crossing the Rio Grande river and then crossing the desert with its mixture of dried out grasses and sage brush and yuccas and small cactus. It then rises through foothills of cedars and junipers. The road heads east across to Roswell eventually, but we take a turn on to Highway 37 in the foothills and immediately start a winding road climb up into the mountains and the landscape soon changes to pine trees, steep canyons, and mountain peaks. Ruidoso sits at an elevation of about 7,000 ft. Its main industry is tourism. There is a ski resort just a few miles from town on 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca Peak. A horse racing venue, Ruidoso Downs is well known and draws visitors and includes a race which is part of the quarter horse triple crown. The Spring, Summer and Fall seasons bring tourists from Texas and Oklahoma looking for an escape from the heat to the mountains.
The Mescalero Apache Indians roamed the area in the 1800s and Sierra Blanca Peak had spiritual significance to them. Settlers first arrived in the mid-1800s, but the town remained small and unknown until the automobile developed and roads were constructed to the area in the 1930s. The 2010 census places the permanent population at just over 8,000, although the town supports commerce for about 20,000 when the population of nearby towns are included.
We shopped a little – scored a great buy on 4 pots for the patio at a neat store called Casa Décor. Lunch was a pretty good burger at Anaheim Jacks, a local bar and grill. We headed home mid-afternoon and arrived about dusk.
The landscape of the West is wonderfully diverse. The meager rainfall on the high desert challenges all the wildlife that call it home and yet it supports more kinds of life than we can imagine. The foothills are home to mule deer, antelope, coyote, rabbits, chukars and even pass through elk. Those of us who have hunted the Western foothills know how a mule deer can sneak around you in the cedars, pinyons and junipers without you even suspecting its presence. The alpine peaks of the Rocky Mountains just seem to spring up out of the high desert and foothills as an oasis from the parched landscape. The contrasting beauty of the pines, cascading creeks and rocky cliffs always gives a sense of awe. The western skies with their far-off horizons and three dimensional clouds and the depths of the blues extending into the heavens leave me with a certain faith that in the vastness, all of creation is held in its proper place – that all the pieces fit together – that all the elements have a purpose in relation to each other – and that even you and I exist for a reason.
I love road trips – sometimes they lead to the familiar, returning out of desire to experience something that pleases – other times like this last Saturday we traveled a new road – a ribbon with each new mile revealing something not seen before – with a destination to begin an experience with – a destination that from time to time will call out for a return. Each small adventure blesses.