The 12,000 foot Sierra Blanca Peak has attracted human beings for thousands of years. Archeologists date pit houses and petroglyphs in the area between 900 and 1400 AD. The Mescalero Apaches consider the mountain, whose name in Apache means “the mountain with snow on top,” to be the home of their protectors, the mountain gods. Most early visitors made the long trip from Roswell, El Paso and other communities by horse and wagon to the area near the Rio Ruidoso that flows down from the mountain.
Ruidoso’s oldest building, Dowlin Mill, was built around 1869 by Paul Dowlin, who had served in the Army at nearby Fort Stanton. Like many discharged soldiers.
Other families operated the mill after Dowlin was shot in the front yard by a disgruntled employee. Annie Lesnett claimed to have entertained visitors Geronimo and Billy the Kid, once hiding the young outlaw. The Wingfield family arrived in 1884. They built the house which still stands at 2813 Sudderth, operated a dairy and ran the post office. Ike Wingfield became Ruidoso’s first mayor in 1946, and his descendants are prominent members of the community.
In 1914, the first cabins were built at the end of the Upper Canyon, and several early lodging establishments are still in operation: the Dan Dee Cabins were built in 1938, and the Noisy Water Lodge, constructed between 1936 and 1940, was the place to go for a special night of dinner and dancing.
Ruidoso has always been a place to escape from the desert heat and to have a good time. Horse racing began in a meadow in what is now Ruidoso Downs. The early races were informal, but by 1947 a race track called Hollywood Park was opened. (The town was named Hollywood from 1926 until 1947, when its name was changed to Green Tree.) The All American Futurity, the world’s richest quarter horse race, was first run on Labor Day 1959. Along with the Rainbow Futurity and the Ruidoso Futurity, it makes up the Quarter Horse Triple Crown.
As summer has always meant horse racing, winter has always meant skiing. The area’s first ski area began in 1938 in a sloping meadow at the end of Cedar Creek Road. Local ski enthusiasts maintained the area and organized an effort to get permission from the U.S. Forest Service to construct a ski area on Sierra Blanca.
However, the permission was granted until 1961, although its opening was delayed by unusually heavy snowfall, and by December the new ski area set a state record for the number of visitors. The Mescalero Apache tribe purchased the resort in 1963; in 1985 it was renamed Ski Apache.
Today, Ruidoso is an island of scenic mountain beauty that continues to attract those who want to escape the desert heat. Pleasures remain simple, a picnic or a walk in the forest, a ride or a stroll among the shops of Midtown. Those looking for gambling or nightlife can still find it in the modest casinos and taverns.