Ruidoso is a small town nestled in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico between Albuquerque and El Paso, Texas. A resort close to skiing and hiking activities, the city of 5,000 is a good place to get in touch with your Western roots -- this is Billy the Kid country. The area also is home to Smokey the Bear, the iconic symbol of the U.S. Forest Service.
Billy the Kid Country
William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, hung out around these parts. He was friends with the Dowlin and Lesnet families of Ruidoso. Local legend has it that Annie Lesnet once hid him in a barrel of flour at Dowlin's gristmill, according to the New Mexico tourism bureau. The still here is the oldest building in Ruidoso, and one of the few remaining working water mills in the southwest. An 84-mile-long, triangular-shaped national scenic byway that goes from Ruidoso to Hondo to Capitan and back to Ruidoso is named for the colorful outlaw.
Smokey the Bear Country
Smokey the Bear was just a tiny cub when he was rescued clinging to a burned tree in the Capitan Mountains of what is now the Smokey Bear Ranger District, headquartered in Ruidoso, in Lincoln National Forest. The cub, nicknamed "Hot Foot Teddy" because of his burned paws, eventually made his way to the U.S. Forest Service, which built a public relations campaign around him: "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires." Smokey lived the rest of his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. His remains were returned to New Mexico after his death at age 26; he is buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, less than 20 miles from Ruidoso.
Three museums in the Ruidoso area offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the West, its culture and its times. The Hubbard Museum of the American West in nearby Ruidoso Downs has a collection of horse memorabilia including saddles, bits and carriages from around the world. The museum became the first New Mexico museum to be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. The Ruidoso River Museum centers on Lincoln County in the 1870s and 1880s, times when Billy the Kid hung around. The museum also displays items owned by celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley. The Fort Stanton museum is not that far from Ruidoso as the crow flies, but since no roads lead directly to it from Ruidoso, it is accessed via Capitan, 27 miles away. The fort was constructed in 1855 and used as a military fort until 1896. It served as an internment camp for German seamen during World War II.
Horses and Gambling
Wanna make a bet you'll enjoy this attraction? The Ruidoso Downs Racehorse Hall of Fame, at the Ruidoso Downs track, holds races between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. Admission to the museum is free. The Billy the Kid Casino, opened in 1991, is affiliated with the racetrack and has more than 300 slot machines.