After our 200th post, we seem to take a long vacation. Trouble is, we stayed home. Good thing Low Budget Review Guy did not. Read on.
A recent 5 day weekend presented itself and we immediately thought of escaping the brutal Texas summer. With 40+ days over 100 degrees, ( now well over 50) we longed for cooler climes. The first idea was Vegas, my favorite vacation spot, but temps there were almost as hot as home. It is August after all. So we quickly decided on Ruidoso, New Mexico. Why? Well several reasons, but we had heard great things about it from friends. The forecast was ideal—mid-80’s during the day and high 50’s at night. After years of saying, “one day, we are gonna visit”, we said, now is the time. So grabbing our college-age son and his roommate, we rented a huge car and off we drove, “West, young man, go West”….
Now if you like to drive, this is the trip for you. Me, I’m not as crazy about it, but , no pain no gain. The cool, clear mountain air was calling to us. After zigzagging through the TX Hill Country, we finally met I-10 a few miles outside of Junction. The bad news—we still had a gazillion miles to go—the good news—the speed limit from there going west is an almost-unheard of 80 MPH. So, aiming the massive landing-strip of a hood of the Grand Marquis (*good God, how old are you?) toward the horizon, I slapped the cruise-control on 82 and slipped into a mind-numbing stupor, watching the gauge reading the outdoor air temperature climbing higher and higher, and listening to the music in my head, playing “Roadhouse Blues” over and over….about 2 and a half hours later, and well over 230 miles down the road in Fort Stockton we made a quick drive by to waive at Paisano Pete, the World’s Largest Statue of a Roadrunner (Beep-Beep…where’s that damn coyote) we stopped for a sandwich and back in the car.
For those of you who have never been to Texas, or who have spent most of their lives driving I-35, this is real Texas, the take your breath away, horizon to horizon, miles and miles of miles and miles of Texas. Dust Devils, 18-wheelers driving slower than you, dry washes, massive wind power turbines waving slowly in the hot air, places called , “Mosquito Lake” and “No Trees”….Texas goes on forever…..we had been in the car for 6 hours and we still hours away from the state border. To due west was El Paso, about 250 miles away, but now we turned north, towards New Mexico—still several hours away…sigh….Oddly enough, though there were few towns, the traffic was more frequent then one would think. There are “oil bidness” service trucks and tankers, everywhere. Lots of Pump Jacks to the left and right of us, drawing that oil from the ground like a high-school student sucking on a cherry-coke at Dairy Queen….through Pecos, home of the world famous Pecos Cantaloupes, we finally crossed into New Mexico, the ground rising like the breath of a baby, softly and slowly.
We drew within about 25 miles of Carlsbad Caverns and decided on a side-trip to that National Park. The last entry to the cavern is 3:30 and we were worried about making the cut-off time, but were saved by the time change—NM is an hour earlier than us. Taking a poorly marked short-cut that had me almost holding my breath, because we were unsure if it was going to get us lost, we arrived at the world famous caverns. Wildfires had charred the surrounding desert terrain, almost up to the Visitor Center. NM is in a drought as well as Texas. We then took the elevator down 76 stories to the massive Big Room for the 90 min self-guided tour. I had been there when I was a small child, and had taken my wife and child there almost 10 years ago, but it still is an amazing place. A true underworld fantasy-land. One of those places that most Americans have not seen, but everyone should see. The temp inside was 68 degrees, but a little humid.
Our leg-stretching break now over, we were back in the car, up through the city of Carlsbad—Note: the highway runs straight through the main street of town. Main street is under massive construction from one end to the other—it took us almost 45 min to get through the stops, potholes, construction cones—not fun.
On to Roswell, a cool-vibe kinda place—with some interesting sounding restaurants and bars. Driving past the UFO Museum, it was closed for the day, dang it, that would have been a hoot. Finally, we turned west again, 70 miles to go. After driving over a ridge, we found ourselves in a beautiful river valley, green fields and large trees in contrast to the brown hills and grass scrub we had been traveling through. Passing several small towns filled with cherry orchards, strawberry and raspberry farms we finally arrived in Ruidoso, just after night fall. It was 78 degrees, and drizzling rain. Awesome!
Finding our chain motel perched on a mountainside, I just stood in the rain for a few minutes blissfully enjoying the cool air and moisture. After getting our suitcases unloaded in our large comfortable rooms we went looking for dinner. Being 9 pm at night in a small resort town, we were not looking for fastfood, but didn’t know what would be open. On most vacations we try to avoid chain restaurants once we reach our destination, instead opting for local spots. You may get a clunker or you may find a gem, that’s part of the fun. However, due to fatigue, we decided on K-Bob’s, a family steak chain, 3 blocks from the hotel. They were still open and the place was packed with folks in traditional western wear of worn jeans, snap-button shirts, cowboy hats and boots. After filling up on very good chicken-fried steak and steak kebabs, we headed back to the hotel to unwind. The hotel had two separate covered outdoor areas with tables and chairs and we took advantage to sit in the cool, dark, 75 degree temperature and let the long day dissipate.
Sorry, LBR Guy Did Not Take This, I Stole It Off the Web. Hey, Its fucking 107 Degrees In Texas
I am an early riser, so next morning, I was up to see the sun rise over the mountain across the road. Watching the swallows and Blue Jays dive around me, I savored the 60 degree weather. What a break from the 100’s we had in Texas. Letting the college guys sleep, my wife and I made a drive around Ruidoso, to get our bearings and the lay of the land. The city is about 8000, but there are several cities all but joined at the hip, so the total population of the area is about 21,000. Traffic was light.
Late morning, we gathered everyone together for a short 20 min drive over the mountains to Bonita Lake, a small mountain lake surrounded by tall, pine tree covered mountains. This lake was low due to drought conditions, but due to all the rain they had in the past several weeks, the fire danger was “minimal”. The area around the lake is a nexus of numerous hiking and mountain biking trails. We stuck to a trail around the lake, going perhaps two-thirds of the way around before heading back keeping an eye on the dark clouds looming. This is usual for August in NM, as it is their rainy “Monsoon” season. Just about every afternoon, rain clouds build up over the mountains, it rains for 30 min or so, then clears off. Sometimes another batch of rain clouds will follow an hour or so later. Driving back to Ruidoso in the rain, we discussed various options for lunch. Once in town, we chose The Lincoln County Grill, more or less at random. In an old house, the place has a very funky, fun feel. The staff, and owner were friendly, outgoing and helpful. Given we were in New Mexico, I just had to try the Blue Cheese with Green Chili pepper Cheeseburger. With an order of Green Chili cheese fries. Spicy foods often give me issues, but I was determined to try these and enjoy the best I can, and later take lots of antacid. The Cheeseburger was delicious, not spicy, but the flavor of the chili peppers mixed beautifully with the beef and Blue Cheese. The Green Chili Cheese fries were simply addictive. All of us agreed this place was a true winner. Lots of options on the menu. From there we drove a few blocks to the city’s public parking and walked off lunch by browsing the shops in town. Picked up a few souvenirs before heading back to the hotel and a nap.
Refreshed after the break we decided to go one of the local Casinos. “The Inn of The Mountain Gods” is owned by the Apaches and rests on Tribal Reservation land. Having visited some less than stellar Native American Casinos in the past, I was very pleasantly surprised by “The Inn…” It is large with several hundred rooms, large gaming floor, several nice restaurants, a sports bar, and outside huge picture windows lay a golf course that looked fantastic. Inside, the complex had numerous striking artworks and sculptures, including a beautiful fountain that looked like a huge hand-made pottery bowl. We hit the casino buffet for dinner. It was very good, if unimaginative except for Apache Fry Bread, which everyone agreed was delicious. After dinner we hit the casino, playing some slot machines. The live Blackjack tables (one $5 table, the rest higher) and the craps table were very crowded. We noticed that there was no free booze being given at the casino. A roaming beverage cart circled among the slots offering soda, water and coffee, but no booze. The sports bar didn’t allow booze to leave the bar area. Interesting. From there we retired to a very nice bar area, dark wood tables, dark wood bar, overstuffed chairs. For his birthday, I ordered my son a Vodka Martini, made with Belvedere Vodka. He is a vodka drinker, but being a poor college age kid, drank only the cheap stuff, so I wanted him to try “real” vodka. The martini was stout, a little too much so for him. Maybe he wasn’t used to quality. My wife helped him finish the drink and remarked how smooth it was. She had never tried one before (she drinks VERY little) and liked it. The rest of us just sat there with our jaws on the floor. Too strong for us, but the lady was smoothing it down. Hilarious! Back to the hotel, and my son and I sat outside in the dark picnic area, enjoying the 75 degrees, drinking a beer and watching a lightning display going on down the valley. Very cosmic.
The next day we decided to drive a 90+ mile scenic byway. Heading down the Hondo Valley about 20 miles, we then turned north to the town of Lincoln. Lincoln is famous for being the center of the “Lincoln County War” back in the late 1870’s or so. This is Billy The Kid country, and his famous escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse has been featured in countless movies and TV shows. Lincoln is small, but has many buildings left from the infamous era, including the courthouse, which is now a museum. At the time of the Lincoln County War, the President of the United States called Main Street in Lincoln, “the most dangerous street in America”. The Wild West indeed. From there we headed to Fort Stanton. This Fort was established to protect the area settlers from Mescalero Apaches. It changed hands during the Civil War. Later it became a hospital for Merchant Marines who were suffering from tuberculosis. During WW II, it was an internment camp for German sailors who were stranded in the US just before war was declared. The Fort is in beautiful condition, the many buildings look in great shape, although we only had access to one, where the museum was. This was a personal visit for us as well as a tourist spot, as a cousin was the Fort Commander from 1862-1865. It was a gratifying experience to walk the parade ground and up to his quarters, knowing he had walked these same steps. From there we journeyed to Capitan, the small town that has its own claim to fame: Smoky Bear. The real, original Smoky Bear was found as a small cub in the aftermath of a large fire nearby. The crew chief of the firefighters took Smoky home and his wife and little girl bandaged his wounds, fed him, and watched him grow to be an American Icon. For children of a particular age, we grew up with the Smoky motto in our heads. He was taken to the Zoo in Washington DC, where he finally died at age 26 in the early 1970’s. The Smoky the Bear Museum and gardens out back include his final resting place, looking at the mountains where he was found. It was well worth the visit. Trying to leave Capitan, we were suddenly hit with a large, loud thunderstorm, including small-marble sized hail. We drove next to a house that had several large trees branching over a street and parked for 15 minutes or so, until the hail was done. Driving back to Ruidoso in light rain, the view of rolling terrain and large mountains in the background was very soothing. That night for dinner the restaurant was , “The Cattle Baron”. The wait was long, but worth it. Very good Prime Rib, a huge salad bar, with large blocks of cheese, delicious steaks. The wait staff was very good, if perhaps a little overworked.
Our last day in town was slated for one of the biggest tourist attractions in town: Ruidoso Downs. This horseracing venue is perhaps best known for the quarter horse races, including The All-American Futurity, in which winners make huge stakes. Quarter horses do not run in a circle like the thoroughbred horses do. These horses generally run a straight-arrow sprint just as fast as they can. I had never been to the horse track before so it was all new. We got there a few minutes early, went over my racing guide and placed several $2 bets. We purchased some reserve seats under cover and watched these magnificent animals run their hearts out. These horses are smaller than the big name thoroughbreds, but are extremely competitive. The races are quick, often photo-finish. There is about 20 minutes between each race, which enabled me to go cash in my winnings. That’s right, first time at the track and I won small amounts on the first four races. They had some thoroughbred races in between the others. Alas, my luck ran out the next 3 races, including losing by a nose on a controversial photo-finish. I ended up down $1.75 on the day. We ended up grateful for the covered seats as there was a very heavy thunderstorm for almost 30 minutes. After a small delay, the horses ran in the rain and mud. Great fun! Free parking, cheap concessions, free admission if you want to watch by the rail, a super day at the track! Watching by the rail is exciting as they horses can get very close, and you can hear their hooves thundering toward you like an avalanche. The heavy breathing and snorting of the animals, the jockeys talking to them, the crack of the riding whip on the horses flanks, make for a great multi-sensory experience. The downside is it is very hard to judge who is winning, and closing fast and who crosses the finish line. You are simply too close and they are too fast to grasp it. After a short afternoon nap, we went to try the better known Italian restaurant in town, Michelena’s. Although crowded, we were immediately seated. The tables are small and cramped, the service good, but a little slow. We were not overly impressed. Would try someplace different next time. After dinner we played miniature golf at perhaps the hardest mini-gold course I have ever played. The fact that I had a huge lead after 9 holes and then coughed it up and came in second is not the point. It was hard! As we spent our final night time enjoying some cold ones in the picnic area reveling in the cooler mountain air, we decided that it would be a place worthwhile to come back. Still a lot of restaurants to try, and hiking trails to take, and cool breezes to enjoy. We knew that although we had a long hard drive the next day, it was worth the visit. I recommend Ruidoso, New Mexico!
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