Ruidoso Ramblings

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I felt very welcomed.

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Plenty o’ nothing on the way to Carrizozo.

I was somewhere near Carrizozo on the edge of the high plains when the misgivings began to kick in. The nagging feeling that I had forgotten something on this, my first-ever solo camping trip. What was it, what was—wait: could it be the pump for the queen-sized air mattress I planned to sleep on the next two nights? (Hey, I said a camping trip, not an exercise in material deprivation.) Or was it…the air mattress itself? And what about the sleeping bag I thought I would use in lieu of a blanket to keep me warm? As I sped along Rt. 380 on the way to Ruidoso, the sinking feeling grew deeper. I could picture myself loading the car with many essentials—except for the bag, the pump, and the mattress.

Well, every adventure, even one as tame as this, needs a few challenges, I reckoned. And reaching Ruidoso, I found a sporting goods store, bought the cheapest sleeping bag and pad I could find, and figured if that was the only calamity on this trip, I’d be doing good. I’m happy to report that it was, and the rest of my short getaway was filled with natural beauty, good weather, and mostly peaceful and welcome solitude.

And Texans, Lots of Texans.

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Mostly green, except for the thousands of acres of forest burned four years ago…

Ruidoso, surrounded by mountains, is an oasis of green in the mostly brown and empty southeast corner of New Mexico. At least empty by my standards. There are a few other towns between there and the Texas border, but none I’d be eager to spend much time in. But Ruidoso, with its Santa Fe-like elevation, moderate temperatures, and proximity to the country’s most southerly ski resort of any size, attracts visitors year-round for its myriad outdoor activities.

Texans, it seems, have turned the Ruidoso area into an extension of the Lone Star State. Their license plates seemed to outnumber New Mexico ones at my campground by a long shot, and their behemoth trucks and SUVs filled the streets. I felt like everywhere I went, I was surrounded by gun-toting, Bible-thumping, Trump-voting Texans. It was a queasy sensation. But the three Texas ladies next to me at the campground were nice enough, and for the duration, there was no reviving of the Civil War or even anything like a skirmish. And after all, we New Mexicans have come to appreciate the money Texans leave here, whether as tourists or owners of second homes. If only they could drive a little better…

IMG_6919 (2)_1Anyway, with my just-purchased supplies in hand, I set up my new tent, my own behemoth that would ensure plenty of space for that huge air mattress I forgot to bring and almost allow me to stand up. (I think I’ve developed a touch of claustrophobia to go along with arthritis as I rocket my way through middle age.) Before I left, I did a test run, setting the tent up at a local park so I would know what I was doing. Not that I hadn’t set up tents before, mind you, but in the past there was always someone more experienced taking the lead. And considering I had only camped twice in the last 30-plus years, I wanted to know what the hell I was doing, as much as possible, before I entered the wild.

IMG_6924 (2)_1Of course, “wild” is relative. The privately owned campground I had chosen caters mostly to RVs and has showers—very nice showers, as it turned out, and probably the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever encountered at a campground. My tent site was near Rio Bonito, which cuts through the grounds. More a stream than a rio, but natural running water nonetheless.

After I set up the tent, I relaxed with a beer, chatted briefly with my neighbors, then pulled out my little propane grill to cook dinner. I planned on a mellow evening—the food, some tunes on the radio, a bit of reading by my new lantern. Dinner went as planned, but the radio didn’t work and the lantern was not really bright enough to read by, so I sat outside, drank more beer, and waited for the sky to darken. I wanted to see the stars, I had told myself before I left, and peering up through the canopy of trees over my site as the night deepened, I saw them. There was little if any light pollution, much less than in Santa Fe, and the stars filled my view while the setting filled me with the peace I had sought before heading out. So this is why people like to camp, I thought. I can dig this.

Up early the next morning for a drive to Ski Apache, the ski slope on Sierra Blanca, a peak that tops out at just under 12,000 feet. The name of the slope is fitting, as the Mescalero Apaches—one of two Apache tribes in the state—have owned and operated it since the 1960s.

I got out at the base, which is above 9,500 feet, and hiked through some Alpine meadows and forest that seemed more fitting for The Sound of Music than the Land of Enchantment. On the trail I saw some fresh scat and thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to photograph a bear or a big cat in the wild!” Which was immediately followed by, “Wow, wouldn’t it suck to be mauled by a bear or big cat in the wild?” But no animal encounters out there in the wilderness. The animal tally for the whole weekend was scant: two deer, one coyote, and a chipmunk at the campground. Lots of birds of course, which I couldn’t identify except for the ravens; you get familiar with the ravens pretty quick here. And one hawk, which sat on a fence post on my drive down, through some of the emptiest landscape I’ve ever seen since I came here.

Saturday night, I left the campground for civilization: dinner and a play at a funky coffee shop/restaurant/performance space in the center of Ruidoso. I talked beer with the owner and theater with the woman selling tickets. My kind of conversations.

IMG_6988 (2)_1IMG_6999 (2)_1I got up early Sunday for the drive back home, taking a longer route through Capitan—famous as the site where the real Smokey Bear (no “the”) was discovered before serving as the inspiration for the fictional bear we knew so well as children—and through a lava field called Valley of the Fires. Instead of coming from an erupting volcano, this lava bubbled up through vents in Earth’s surface several thousand years ago, creating a field of black rock in an otherwise mostly bleak landscape (except for the mountains in the distance. Almost always it seems, there are mountains in the distance).

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Sierra Blanca, the second time around.

Before I started out on this little excursion, I wasn’t so sure how I felt about going alone. I’ve traveled plenty of times solo, but this was different, this back-to-nature thing. Still, even before heading north, I was planning my next solo camping trip. Alone, I could stop wherever and whenever I wanted to take pictures, and go back to some remote spot to see how Sierra Blanca looked when the light was different (better). I could keep NPR on the radio, playing obscure shows almost the whole trip. I could go see a play by a community group, not caring too much about the quality, just wanting to support the folks who try to keep theater alive in a tourist town that doesn’t have “cultural hot spot” written all over it. I don’t mind the compromise and joint decisions that come with traveling with someone else, especially a significant other. But sometimes it’s good to be alone. And this weekend was one of them.

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~ by mburgan on July 25, 2016.

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