I wrote this as I sat in Ruidoso, NM gazing out the window watching a majestic rain storm pound our outside deck and clouds slowly blanket the mountain peaks normally in full view. This charming small town in southcentral New Mexico is special and it’s long been special to my husband and me. It’s where we met. Long story short: I was working at a TV station in El Paso and he had moved from Boston to Houston. One of the sports anchors I worked with went to college with my hubby in New York so he came to El Paso to go skiing with him. A bunch of us from the station tagged along and the rest is history. I broke up with my college boyfriend of four years who was back in Oklahoma in law school, chose the boy from Buffalo, and all these years later we venture back to Ruidoso as often as possible. We love that it’s a true escape and still somewhat authentic.
In the summer, it’s a somewhat secret hamlet of warm weather pursuits such as golf and the famous Ruidoso Downs race track. There are also plenty of casinos, outdoor activities, family fun, and a handful of excellent restaurants. Peek out the window of the house we stay in or drive along the beautiful route into town and we see deer, turkeys, and a giant and massive antlered Elk we’ve named “Bucky.” At night we hear coyotes howling and our house has a sign alerting us that we’re in bear country and all that that means. In a word, it’s all beautiful and blessed.
Ruidoso’s main street is home to many darling and unique yet for the most part, affordable, shops and restaurants. In the winter, the Rocky Mountains’ most southern ski resort, Ski Apache, opens up to downhillers and shredders alike. Still, with all its amenities and beauty, Ruidoso remains somewhat under the Aspen and Santa Fe radar. As a native Santa Fean, I know exactly what that means. As a long-time Texas resident though, I also know Texans love Ruidoso as it’s a fairly easy drive from most of the Lone Star State. In fact, the vibe here is much more western then southwestern.
As I sit here watching the rain outside and golf on TV, I’m also reading an interesting magazine article in “Town & Country” that confirms our decision to head west and not northwest. The article details how Montana has become anything but a quiet get away. Go to Montana. Post on Instagram and Facebeook. And go on to the next destination. So much for chilling, practicing some soul care, and just taking in God’s landscape. But, good to know as we actually considered going to Big Sky Country this summer but it all became stressful and complicated to plan. Instead, we decided it’s much easier to pack the car, the dogs, and drive to our quiet little slice of heaven.
As with anywhere it seems, America’s Wild Wild West is sadly morphing into anything but. The magazine article, written by Antonia Hitchens, details the timeless dream of home on the range has been inundated by travelers and land buyers. In fact, 1.2 million acres were sold in Montana last year and Bozeman is now unaffectionately called “Boz Angeles.” Rumor has it that a California developer bought almost all of the remaining land around one town and Rupert Murdoch’s Montana ranch had a selling price of $200 million last year. With the median asking price for a single-family house in Bozeman now topping $905,000, many Big Sky realtors are telling potential buyers to buy any house or land they see as there may be little left very soon. It seems a ranch out west is the new house in the Hamptons. Oy.
Blame Keven Costner. His hit TV show “Yellowstone” has created a deluge of interest in places to escape to and feel the fantasy of the American West. Blame also the work from home craze. Post-pandemic workers realize they can indeed work from anywhere. Why not Montana? The owner of Ranch at Rock Creek…what many consider the most expensive ranch in America… put it simply to “Town & Country” when he said, “The match was lit and Montana is on fire now.” It’s happened in Colorado; Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole; and Hemingway’s Ketchum, Idaho and now in addition to Montana, Spokane, Washington and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho are cold weather hot spots. But it’s different now.
Gone are the days of packing the fam and renting or buying a rustic little place in the mountains or valleys. Small town charm has big bonuses but tell that to Aspen. Today’s buyers want exclusive and private enclaves that those in lines in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park can only dream about. For example, the uber-exclusive Yellowstone Club in Big Sky not only boasts expansive and expensive homes and a golf course, but also the world’s only private ski resort. “Five-star living dressed up as frontiersmanship” as it is now described. Not exactly frontier authenticity but fabulous I’m sure.
So massive are many of the new developments that the gates to them rival those of entrances to nearby national parks. Elk antlers are all the rage and real Montanans reportedly consider Big Sky the Monaco of Montana. Who knew Montana and Monaco would ever be uttered in the same sentence.
So what is it? What is making these “billionaires in Wrangler jeans” as Hitchens describes them, long for a western paradise but one stocked with Whole Foods and Starbucks? Many are just tired of their day-to-day struggles and stresses and to get away far away is something they yearn for and can afford. Oddly enough though, their quest to be alone is proving more and more crowded and the impact all the building and development is having on the once pristine environment goes against many a climate change advocate’s chirping.
It’s all very similar to “Yellowstone’s” ranchers versus developers plot lines and as realtor Bill McDavid says, “People fall in love with authenticity but then wonder where they’ll get organic hummus.”
I’m not a fan of hummus and truth be told, neither my husband nor I are big outdoors people. We love walking along the streets near the house we stay in in tranquil Ruidoso, but hiking and the like are not in our wheel zone. And, after reading Hitchens’ article, I’m certain we’ll continue to choose New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest over all the hype up north and out west. We’re just hoping it stays a secret. Shhhhh!