Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation
Immediately south and west of Ruidoso, the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation covers over 460,000 acres (719 sq. miles) and is home to about 2,800 members of the Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Lipan bands of Apaches. Established by order of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, it sustains a profitable cattle-ranching industry and the Apache-run logging firm of Mescalero Forest Products.
Seeing the Highlights -- Even if you're not staying or dining here, be sure to visit the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, a luxury resort owned and operated by the tribe; it's the crowning achievement of Wendell Chino, former president of the Mescalero Apache tribe.
Also on the reservation, on US 70 about 17 miles southwest of Ruidoso, is the Mescalero Cultural Center (tel. 575/671-4494), open weekdays from 8am to 4:30pm. Photos, artifacts, clothing, crafts, and other exhibits demonstrate the history and culture of the tribe.
St. Joseph's Apache Mission (tel. 575/464-4473), just off US 70 in Mescalero, on a hill overlooking the reservation, is a grand, stone Romanesque-style structure that stands 103 feet tall and has walls 4 feet thick. Built between 1920 and 1939, the mission church also contains an icon of the Apache Christ, with Christ depicted as a Mescalero holy man, as well as other Apache religious art. Local arts and crafts and religious items are for sale at the parish office. The church is open daily during daylight hours.
Ruidoso at Night -- If you'd like a rollicking night out, check out Mountain Annie's Dinner Theater, 2710 Sudderth Dr. (tel. 575/257-7982). Set in a 7,000 square-foot building with chandeliers and red velvet drapes, the dinner theater features a variety of types of performances but most are music variety shows, with tunes ranging from rock to country. The cost for a beef brisket or chicken dinner is $35 adults and $15 for children. Doors open at 6:30pm; dinner is served at 7pm, and the show begins at 8pm. Children can either watch the show or hang out in the supervised playhouse, free of charge. In a similar but Old West vein, the Flying J Ranch, on NM 48, 1 mile north of Alto (tel. 888/458-3595 or 575/336-4330), offers fun family entertainment and chuck-wagon fare. This ranch is like a Western village, complete with staged gunfights and pony rides for the kids. Gates open at 6pm; a hearty chuck-wagon dinner of barbecue beef or chicken is served promptly at 7:30. Then, at 8:20pm, the Flying J Wranglers present a fast-paced stage show with Western music and a world-champion yodeler. Reservations highly recommended. It costs $22 for ages 13 and up, $12 for ages 4 to 12, and is free for ages 3 and under. It's open May to Labor Day Monday to Saturday (Labor Day to mid-Oct Sat only).
Dances & Ceremonies -- Throughout the year, the Mescalero Cultural Center hosts powwows of colorful dancing and traditional drumming, open to the public and with unrestricted photography. The most accessible to visitors are dances and a rodeo on July 4.
For more information about the reservation, write to the Tribal Office at P.O. Box 227, Mescalero, NM 88340 or call tel. 575/671-4494.
Lincoln Historic District: A Walk in the Footsteps of Billy the Kid -- One of the last historic yet uncommercialized 19th-century towns remaining in the American West, the tiny community of Lincoln lies 37 miles northeast of Ruidoso on US 380, in the valley of the Rio Bonito. Few people live here today, but it was once the seat of the largest county in the United States, and the focal point of the notorious Lincoln County War of 1878-79. Though the town contains a number of museums today, a single ticket will get you entry into all of them.
The bloody Lincoln County War was fought between various ranching and merchant factions over the issue of beef contracts for nearby Fort Stanton. A sharpshooting teenager named William Bonney -- soon to be known as "Billy the Kid" -- took sides in this issue with "the good guys," escaping from the burning McSween House after his employer and colleague were shot and killed. Three years later, after shooting down a sheriff, he was captured in Lincoln and sentenced to be hanged. But he shot his way out of his cell in what is now the Lincoln County Courthouse Museum, which still has a hole made by a bullet from the Kid's gun. Of special note here is a letter handwritten by Billy defending himself to Governor Lew Wallace.
Many of the original structures from that era have been preserved and restored by the Museum of New Mexico, the Lincoln County Historical Society, and an organization called Historic Lincoln (tel. 575/653-4025; www.nmmonuments.org), a subsidiary of the Lincoln State Monument.
Just the Facts -- At the Visitor Center, on NM 380 on the east side of town (tel. 575/653-4025), exhibits explain the role in Lincoln's history of Apaches, Hispanics, Anglo cowboys, and the black Buffalo Soldiers, and detail the Lincoln County War. A 12-minute film on Lincoln history is presented in an old-fashioned theater. Start your visit here and join a tour given every hour by docents in period costumes, included in the admission cost. Across the courtyard is the Luna Museum Store. Also of note in the town is the short, round Torreon fortress, which served as protection from Apache raids; the Montaño Store, once a saloon and boarding house; Dr. Wood's House, filled with pre-1920s furnishings, books, and instruments; and the Tunstall Store Museum, with late 19th- and early 20th-century clothes, hardware, and butter churns.
An annual folk pageant, The Last Escape of Billy the Kid, has been presented outdoors since 1949 as a highly romanticized version of the Lincoln County War. It's staged Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon during the first full weekend in August as part of the Old Lincoln Days celebration. The festival also includes living-history demonstrations of traditional crafts, musical programs, and food booths throughout the village.
The historic district is open year-round daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Admission is $5 for adults (includes entry to six buildings during summer and four in winter). It's free for children 16 and under. For more information, write to P.O. Box 36, Lincoln, NM 88338, or call tel. 575/653-4025.