Nestled in the crook of a deep and chiselled valley, lies the New Mexican settlement of Ruidoso. It’s not a place you’d likely stumble upon by chance, unless you were seeking out the most southerly ski mountain in the States. Home to the Apache Ski Resort in the Sacramento Mountains, the nearby Sierra Blanca Peak is often overlooked despite its stature, towering as it does some 12,000 ft above sea level.
Founded in 1885, its name – noisy, in Spanish – harks back to a former life, to days when the quiet river it flanks was known as roaring rio ruidoso. Indeed, the whole area is steeped in history from the pages of the Old West, notably through its association with Sheriff Pat Garett and the notorious frontier outlaw Billy the Kid – the old courthouse in neighbouring Lincoln is even said to be pocked with gunshots from his escape. Nearby Fort Stanton, now developed into the area’s most extensive trail network, claims an equally colourful past, with protagonists that include cavalries of Buffalo Soldiers, Kit Carsen (trapper, scout, soldier and a dime novel favourite of the era), as well as the Mascalero Apaches, whose ancestral home this region is.
Surrounding Ruidoso lies the subdued yet beautiful Lincoln National Forest, erupting from the brittle dry plains of the Chihuahua Desert, and the setting for pine, fir, aspen, oak and grassland meadows – as well as an equally diverse network of dirt roads and trails. Lying some three hours drive south from Santa Fe (two from ABQ, NM and El Paso, TX), the climate is a notch warmer than northern New Mexico, making it the perfect spot for a late winter/spring break bikepacking escape… Coupled with its blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue, it’s an area with fantastic potential.
Route: We based ourselves in Ruidoso (6900ft) and enjoyed two full days of riding, bookended with a couple of hours on either side. Total distance was around 125 miles. Thin and long Ruidoso, strung out over several miles, has all the amenities.
Cody Thurston at the Bike Shop proved to be a mine of information (thanks!), suggesting our route, and even joining us to camp out on the last night. Cody plans to develop a multi day loop and post a gpx route for fellow bikepackers. There’s certainly scope for several days of riding.
We rode out of Ruidoso on 70, turning off onto FR 443 and 558, crossing the highway at Glencoe to ride up Diablo Canyon (E7). Briefly skirting round some of Fort Stanton’s singletrack network, we then detoured into Fort Stanton itself to avoid the galeforce winds gusting that day, before crossing over onto FR338A, C1, and taking FR142 back to pavement at Capitan. Then, we cut back towards Nogal (FR105), turning off to climb Nogal Canyon (FR400), and returning to Ruidoso via Alto on the 48.
With more time, we’d have loved to have made it further north to the settlement of White Oaks, home to the characterful No Scum Allowed Saloon, as well as exploring the northern side of the Capitan Wilderness. The towns of Carrizoso and Lincoln would doubtlessly be cool places to visit too. That’s ok though. It’s always good to have a reason to return…
The museum in Fort Stanton shows a short video on the area’s history, which really helped infuse a sense of context to our journey.
On this occasion, we were keeping to dirt roads rather searching out singletrack. Recommended trails within a mile of the bike shop include the Grindstone Lake and Cedar Creek trails. The Fort Stanton area has also been developed, and would make a great pit stop on a bikepacking route. The best trails at the fort are considered to be the ’12 Hours in the Wild West Loop': Kit Carson, Capitan Overlook, Buffalo Solider and Outlaw trails.
Bike Shops: There’s one in town which is called, as it happens, the Bike Shop. It’s a great resource for local information/trails/bikpacking gear.
Maps and Navigation: We used the free black and white Forest Service map, the Lincoln National Forest map, and Gaia’s topo mapping, on my iPhone 5, which doubled up as our GPS.
Food and Water: Plenty of water along the way, including at various water tanks, Fort Stanton museum (and at the Horse Trails Parking Lot, on 220), and Capitan. Food in Ruidoso (whatever you do, don’t miss Porky’s Mexican Restaurant!) and Capitan (burritos at the gas station). Had we made it to White Oaks, we’d have frequented the No Scum Allowed Saloon too. Bear in mind we were riding early in the year – at the beginning of February – so temperatures were cool.
Gear: I rode my Surly Ogre, with a Porcelain Rocket and Carradice saddlebag combination, while Tim used his Revelate packs on his Raleigh XXIX. I was perfectly happy riding a rigid fork, though some of the jeep tracks are relatively rough. Gear highlights included our Goal Zero solar panels, which worked a treat and kept smartphones fully charged. Tarps were useful given the strong winds and sub zero night time temperatures. Later in the year, sleeping under the stars would be bliss.
Camera: Canon 5dMk2, with Canon 17-40mm f/4 and 70-200 f/4 lenses. More photos can be seen on my Flickr page.