Enchanted Land

Consistently voted as one of the best places to vacation, live and retire, Ruidoso, New Mexico, has much to offer those who dream of owning a log home in the Southwest.

Artistic legend Georgia O'Keefe fell under its spell. So did Ansel Adams and scores of other artists and outdoorsmen who adored open spaces and alluring landscapes. The good news is that New Mexico still possesses those qualities. Indeed, the state boasts some of the most diverse terra firma in North America. Snowcapped mountains neighbor parched deserts, and secluded natural wonders vie with ancient ruins and other manmade attractions for visitors' attention.

Among it all is the tiny south-central town of Ruidoso, situated within the southernmost range of the Rockies. Consistently voted as one of the best places to vacation, live and retire, Ruidoso (which takes its name from Rio Ruidoso, the "noisy river" running through it) has much to offer those who dream of owning a log home in the Southwest. "New Mexico is the fifth-largest state, but only two million people live here," says Robert Coburn, representative for Kuhns Bros. Log Homes in nearby Cloudcroft. "So you can see why we consider ourselves the greatest secret in the country."

What's It Like to Live Here?

Even though Ruidoso is heavily supported by tourism, the community has maintained its small-town appeal. Until recently, with the introduction of home-delivery service, residents would congregate at the post office each day to catch up with their neighbors and chat about local news and events. In fact, the quality of life in Ruidoso is something residents are determined to preserve. "Everything we have here is a gift of nature," says Joan Zagone, former executive director of the Ruidoso Chamber of Commerce. "It's up to us to leave a legacy for others."

How's the Weather?

In New Mexico, the sun shines an average of 70 percent of the year, and Ruidoso is no exception. During the height of summer, you can count on highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 40s. Winter temperatures are pleasant, with highs in the upper 40s and 50s and lows in the teens and 20s. But probably the best part about Ruidoso's weather is its Alpine climate, featuring low humidity and cool breezes. There's even snowfall in the mountains of Lincoln County. "There's enough snow to be enjoyable, but not enough to be a nuisance," says Alvin Vaught of Log Homes of Cloudcroft. This snowfall has helped Ski Apache become one of the best locations for winter sports in the area.

A Little History

As settlers made their way into this uncharted territory in the 1800s, the Native American tribes who had inhabited the land for centuries were pushed onto pueblos and reservations. In the Ruidoso area, the Mescalero Apaches, who include Geronimo among their most famous warriors, were once one of the most feared tribes in the Southwest. (Today, they are among the most commercially successful, thanks to the income generated by Casino Apache and Ski Apache.) In 1878, unrest between those who worked the land (cowboys and ranchers) and those who owned the city (bankers and politicians) was bubbling in Lincoln County. And during this time, its most famous historical resident was about to take center stage. Billy the Kid, fighting for the cowboys, fled the final shootout of the battle in Lincoln and went on to terrorize the area.

He escaped the law until Sheriff Pat Garrett shot him on July 14, 1881. In the 1920s (with the bloodshed behind them), Ruidoso emerged as a resort community, thanks to wealthy oilmen who sought out southern New Mexico as a place to escape the stifling Texas summers. As word spread, the area slowly became a year-round destination, and, with the introduction of a racetrack in 1948, Ruidoso's place as a prime vacation destination was sealed.

Meet the Neighbors

Many of Ruidoso's residents originally hail from Texas (they came for vacations and never left) and have contributed greatly to the area's friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Retirees also have been drawn to Ruidoso, but many new residents are working in town or are telecommuting from home so that they can enjoy the beauty of rural New Mexico. Keep an eye peeled for some familiar faces in the neighborhood, including Sam Donaldson, whose ranch is just east in the Hondo Valley; LPGA Hall of Fame golfer Judy Rankin; and bronze sculptor Dave McGary, one of more than 400 accomplished artists who call Ruidoso home.

What to Do, What to Do

If you're an art lover, you must visit Ruidoso's Hurd LaRinconada Gallery with its collection of prints from the Wyeth-Hurd family including N.C., Andrew and Henrietta Wyeth and Peter and Michael Hurd. Also, the new 3,000-seat Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts regularly brings world-famous entertainers to its indoor hall and outdoor stage. It's also home to four original Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. Although Albuquerque is known as the ballooning capital of the world, Ruidoso also has its share of spectacular views from the air. Nearby Alamogordo hosts the annual White Sands Hot Air Balloon Invitational each fall, where launches take place on the site of the world's largest gypsum dune field.

And you shouldn't miss the tradition of horse racing in Ruidoso. In 1946, local cowboys decided it would be a hoot to race their horses for money, unknowingly creating one of the world's richest horse races. The All-American Futurity is held each Labor Day at Ruidoso Downs and boasts a $1 million purse. Be sure to take your kids to the Lincoln National Forest in the nearby Sacramento Mountains for a breath of fresh air and a chance the impress fire safety upon them, for it was in this forest that Smokey the Bear was born. As a cub, Smokey got hopelessly stranded in a forest fire and was rescued by local firefighters from high atop a charred tree. The bear cub soon became an international symbol for forest-fire prevention.

Dining Out

It's been said that New Mexicans eat, sleep and breathe chile peppers, and in Ruidoso you can finally uncover your answer to the age-old question of "red or green?" Try some of the city's renowned restaurants for a taste of classic South-western cuisine. If you're not in the hot-and-spicy mood, the French restaurant La Lorraine was recently awarded four diamonds by AAA and comes highly recommended by locals, as does the Village Buttery. K.C.'s Log Cabin Restaurant in Cloudcroft (located 60 miles south of Ruidoso) is a must for log home enthusiasts looking for classic American fare for breakfast or lunch.

Location, Location, Location

Log home owners in Ruidoso enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southwest, with views of both the mountains and the valleys. And the cost of land in New Mexico is, by any standard, an incredible deal. "Ruidoso is a little like Santa Fe," says Alvin, "only it offers more variety and is more affordable." When you purchase land in the Ruidoso area, look carefully at its proximity to town, as property is considerably more expensive within the city limits. "You can build in the village if you like village life," says Alvin. "Or you can move out and have as much privacy and isolation as you want." There is plenty of land available in any of the three golf-course communities close to town, but if you're in it for the view, consider the Alto neighborhood of Ruidoso. Its increased elevation offers some majestic views.

Or even venture farther outside town for a first-hand experience of the never-ending vistas that characterize the great Southwest. "Ruidoso has some of the most striking scenery you can expect to find in Rocky Mountain country," says Robert Coburn. "It's bordered by the Sierra Blanca (white mountain) and some of the views of this beauty are breathtaking."

JUST THE FACTS: Ruidoso, New Mexico
Population: Approximately 9,000; swelling to more than 30,000 in season

Property-tax rate residential: $26/$1,000 Property-tax rate non-residential: $32.87/$1,000

Price and size of a recent, typical sale of vacant land: 1/2 acre in Ruidoso starts at $25,000; 5 acres start at $40,000 Price and size of a recent, typical sale of an existing log home: $170,600

Closest airport: Sierra Blanca Regional Airport, Ruidoso

Closest medical service: Lincoln County Medical Center in Ruidoso
  To read the full story on Ruidoso, NM, check out the 2004 August issue of Log Home Living.
Joanne Poesch is a freelance travel writer from Ashburn, Virginia. While her specialty has been international locales, she's thrilled to discover all the "Great Places" North America has to offer.