It's Culture / Travel There

A Houstonian’s Guide: Ruidoso in 24 Hours

Ruidoso New Mexico

“When are you going to come to Ruidoso,” — my Memaw and Pawpaw every time I speak to either of them over the past 5ish years they’ve owned their house in the quiet town in southern New Mexico. “Soon!” I’d always say.

After spending a long weekend in the mountains with them, I expect that exchange won’t change much, although now it’ll be more like “When are you going to come back to Ruidoso.” My “soon!” will also be resounding, since I absolutely can’t wait to go back.

I gotta say that — besides my grandparents’ reactions — I got a lot of “Why New Mexico?” responses when I said where I was headed for a quick vacay. (I got this reaction when I said I was headed to Croatia! do I visit weird places? Fine with it…) Well, let me count the reasons one should find herself in New Mexico.

1. It’s cool! In both definitions. Temps on the morning we woke up early were in the 50s. IN JULY. We were considering double layers. IN JULY. We were in the mountains, so the temps stayed below 80, even during the heat of the day. Midday rains usually cooled that off even more. Bonus: It’s a dry air heat, so even that 80-degree weather felt nice because no humidity.

2. It’s adventurous! Each day was filled with outdoor adventure, from zip lining to hiking and more. We didn’t do too much hiking, but that’s definitely on the list for the next visit. Plus: Skiing!

3. You might win back your flight money from the casinos. My one friend turned a $20 into $300. I was not that lucky.

4. It’s rich in history and Native American tradition. Ruidoso sits just outside the Mescalero reservation, so there’s tons of artisan shops and authentic places to visit.

5. It’s pretty cheap. Well, not really to get there… we flew into El Paso, which (for some unknown reason) was about $350. Plus, then we rented a car to drive the 2 hours to Ruidoso (another $130, which was split among three). But once there, I shopped till I dropped, and everything ended up being wayyy more affordable (and more interesting!) than shopping at boutiques in Houston.

Now that I’ve convinced you to give NM a try, here’s what you do when you’re there.

White Sands National Park

A solid hour and twenty minutes away fro Ruidoso, White Sands might be best visited on your way to Ruidoso. That was our plan. We flew into El Paso and were going to make a pit stop at the sands, however, Southwest had different plans for us. We were delayed 3 hours and were scared we wouldn’t make it to the park with enough light to take pictures. Then, Sunday, when we were supposed to head back, was predicting rain so we decided to go on Friday instead. Joke was on us. It rained on us anyways, haha. It was OK, though. It just drizzled and we still got some cool pix.

So, you can actually see the sands from various spots in New Mexico. It’s HUGE — 275 square miles of gypsum dunefield, the largest in the world. It’s not your normal beach sand. We did it kind of backwards, but here’s how I’d recommend doing it.

  • Go at around 6 pm. The light is perfect, and if you spend 2 hours there, you get to see it at night too! Full moon is gorgeous.
  • Before heading into the park, check out the museum and the gift shop. Learn about the sustainability of the sands PLUS you gotta buy a sled ($10 for a used one, and you can sell it back to them when you’re done). Because I didn’t go to the shop before, I didn’t get a sled.
  • Head into the sands. It’s $5 per person.
  • The road is a big loop, so you can’t get lost. Just make sure not to forget which way you came from. Everything pretty much just looks the same in there. Find a spot where you can see sand as far as the eye can see! Try a couple spots.

Ps. Don’t wear a dress. It’s cute and all, but think of the jumping pix. I struggled.

Ski Apache’s Apache Windrider zip line

Apache Windrider

Who’da thought the longest and the highest altitude zip line in the world is in New Mexico on the side of the Sierra Blanca mountain? Not I! But there it is, and it’s $84 and takes about two hours from check in and training to coming down the last stretch of zipline.

It. Was. So. Fun.

Ski Apache is about 40 minutes from Ruidoso — up a winding road with limited guardrails. It’s a little terrifying, but at 8 am it was pretty empty of other cars and, thankfully, animals.

We paid, signed our lives away, watched a video, suited up (full body harness with a backpack holding our trolley) and then practiced before heading up to the gondola and up an ATV to the first line.

The first line was about a full minute long, and the next two were more like 30 seconds or so. They were FAST and steep, but the guides tell you when and where to break.

PSA: I used my GoPro handle bc I was too chicken to use the helmet strap. Also, I wanted to selfie.

Lunch at Casa Blanca

Post zip, we headed to Casa Blanca down the mountain near town. It’s this cute, authentic looking Tex New Mex Mex. It was basically like TexMex but with more hatch green chili (bc that’s a HUGE thing in New Mexico).

10/10 would recommend this spot — get anything with a chile relleno (so good, stuffed with cheese and beef). Plus, if you write a review, you can get a free dessert.

Ruidoso Downs and Billy the Kid Casino

I’ve never been to horse racing, but I realized I still knew what I was getting into. Races are from 1-4 every day and are free to attend. Bets are as cheap as $2. There are also tons of cute shops and stands to buy things if betting isn’t your thing. We had lunch at the restaurant there, but you could totally skip it. If not, get the sliders. 🙂

Inn of the Mountain Gods

Inn of the Mountain Gods

If your grandparents don’t live in New Mexico (weird), then you might want to stay at the Inn of the Mountain Gods. It’s on this gorgeous property with a lake and mountain view, golf course, restaurant and casino. We spent most of our time losing money at the casino, but I wish we could have explored more.

Shopping (and drinking wine) in town

We were about to drive 40 minutes to a winery when, upon driving through town, we learned there’s a winery tasting place right in town called Noisy Water Winery! (Ruidoso translates to “noisy water”)And bonus! It was next to all these cute shops. Actually, the winery makes more than 40 different wines, so there are TWO tasting rooms on Sudderth Drive (where all the shops are). One was $5 for three tastings of your choice + a tasting of their green Chili wine (see, Ruidoso is all about the green chili!) then the other one is $10 for five tastings.

If you had to pick one, go to the $10 one (2400 Rio St.) mostly because it has an awesome patio with live music. When we were there, we watched a 12- and 15-year-old brother-sister duo perform songs even I have never heard of. They are my heros, and I’m almost twice their average age.

If wine isn’t your thing, or you need an upper before your downer, Sacred Grounds is a cute 3-story restaurant and cafe that sits right on a river. It. Is. Adorable.

Re: Shopping. Go in all the stores. There were jewelry spots, antique stores, boutiques, and more.

Visit the largest Pistachio (and drink more wine)

On our way out of town, we stopped at at Pistachio Land. Yes, that is a thing, and it has the largest pistachio in the world (30 feet).

The pistachio farm sells tours for just $2 and that gives you a cookie. It’s on the tour that I learned that pistachio trees take about 5 years to even make their first batch of FRUIT (pistachios are not actually nuts). The fruit has three layers: a fleshy one that’s kinda pink before it’s ripe, the shell and the nut/fruit itself. The farm grows the trees from branches, so all the trees are a little crooked, and pistachio farming came to America in the ’70s when USA wasn’t on good terms with the major producer of pistachios: Iran. Now, the US produces the second-most pistachios, and actually, less than 2% is produced outside of California, so despite us passing two different, huge pistachio farms in NM, they don’t make as many as you think.

The farm also grows grapes and makes its own wine — Arena Blanca Winery. You can taste and shop too. Have your nuts and drink wine too.

Pin, pin, pin for future wanderlusting.

One thought on “A Houstonian’s Guide: Ruidoso in 24 Hours

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