For several years a small group of veterans of the 99th Infantry Division and ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) and their wives have been meeting just before Labor Day in Ruidoso NM, for a mini-reunion. One of the group is my friend James R. McIlroy of Celina TX, whose son has the High Country Lodge in Ruidoso where we stay at a reduced rate.
Before I was invited to join them a few years ago, I had never heard of Ruidoso. That year we flew to Albuquerque and drove a rented car south over many miles of desert until suddenly the landscape changed and we were driving up into lush green mountains covered with tall pines. The air was cool although it was late August, the sky was blue and it felt like the north woods. We were in Ruidoso and our lodge was at an altitude of 7,200 feet. Nearby we could see the peak of Sierra Blanca, 12,000 feet high. It was hard to believe we were enjoying cool, pleasant breezes surrounded by hot, dry desert. We were near Alamogordo and the white sands, not far from Roswell, reportedly the site of UFOs.
When I mention Ruidoso few people have heard of it unless they are interested in horse racing. Then they say, “That’s where the quarter horse races are.” It appears to be a popular destination for skiers in winter.
This year we flew to El Paso and drove a rented car 133 miles to Ruidoso, again meeting our friends from prior reunions. We saw the races, and Mary K. demonstrated her skill at picking horses, winning nearly enough to cover my losses. For those as uninformed as I, quarter horses are stockier than thoroughbreds, and run only 250 to 350 yards in a straight line along the part of the track near the grandstand, for a quick, short race.
Out in the desert, not far from Ruidoso is a surprising sight, the magnificent Spencer Theatre for the Performing Arts, a splendid architectural jewel. Designed by famed architect Antoine Predock and decorated by glass creations of Dale Chihuty, this state of the art palace brings the greatest artists, entertainers and symphony orchestras to this remote area. It was the vision of Jackie Spencer, now-deceased widow of Wall Street Journal owner, Dr. A.N. Spencer, to which she donated more than $37 million. We saw the Limeliters there.
We also saw a shoot-out in the street at the Flying-J Ranch between the sheriff and two outlaws who, with other performers, later entertained us during our chuckwagon dinner with their singing, yodeling and western music.
Worth seeing, even if you don’t gamble, is the casino, Inn of the Mountain Gods, on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation for its restaurant, paintings and sculpture.