Red River redux

This northern New Mexico mining town is what family ski vacations are all about

Red River restaurant

Douglas Merriam

On a stroll down Main Street in Red River, New Mexico, we almost thought we'd stumbled onto an Old West movie set. Steep hills hovered close all around, covered with dark green pines and blanketed with brilliant white snow. Clapboard storefronts--some with wood sidewalks and hitchin' posts out front--sported names such as Texas Reds and Motherlode Saloon. Cowboy boots and hats looked right at home on the people ambling past, and we were "howdy-ed" before we'd walked half a block. Like many small Western towns, Red River is a friendly place in the way a 19th-century boom-to-bust mining town turning family resort almost has to be.

Storefront window displays, new sidewalks, signs for espresso, and folks toting skis make the town's 21st-century playground status clear. But Red River is small, and just above the rooftops, the mountains of Carson National Forest are constant reminders that modern resort life is still a relative newcomer here.

Red River (population about 400) is arranged east-west along 11/2 miles of the narrow valley carved by its namesake. Access is via State 38 from Questa at the junction of State 522 about 11 miles to the west, or over Bobcat Pass about 4 miles east of Red River. In town, State 38 becomes Main Street, lined with restaurants, shops, and lodging.

Cross-streets are short, since the valley rises steeply some 2,000 feet on both sides, with the ski area on the south side and homes and lodges throughout the valley. Architecture on both sides of the river tends toward rustic Wild West with Swiss Alpine touches. The scent of piney mountain air and the snowy ski runs that end right in town make it clear why Red River has become a winter getaway for folks from mountain-challenged states like Texas and Oklahoma.

 

The main draw is the ski area, set up to attract families and beginner to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Its six lifts lead up to 57 runs, many of them comfortingly wide and dimpled with easily negotiated bumps, though a few black diamond runs, such as Mineshaft, add a challenge.

Snow-season visitors can also go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, or snowmobiling without straying far from town. We drove up to Bobcat Pass and found perfectly groomed nordic ski trails at the Enchanted Forest Crosscountry Ski and Snowshoe Area.

Downtown establishments do what they can to amuse visitors who want to round out a short day on the slopes. Entering a shop, we quickly came to expect a friendly, "Hi. Where y'all from?"

While choices aren't extensive, there is variety among the small shops and boutiques strung along a short segment of Main Street. The Jewelry Lady showcases Native American silver and turquoise along with pieces from around the world. Across the street, NorthWind Gallery displays carved wood birds, fine art pottery, porch furniture, and paintings. On Pioneer Road near the base of the ski area, Red River Gallery of Fine Arts features cowboy paintings by resident Kenneth Wyatt. Break up your Main Street shopping or just kick back with a good book and a cappuccino at the Black Crow Coffee House.

The great outdoors, shopping, and a choice of fine dining or casual, quirky restaurants--there's plenty to keep a family busy. One word of warning: If you don't arrive with a country drawl or a Texas twang, you just might leave town with one. It's catching.

Red River is about 110 miles northeast of Santa Fe. For a free visitor's guide, contact the Red River Chamber of Commerce (800/348-6444 or www.redrivernewmex.com).

 

ACTIVITIES AND SHOPPING

Enchanted Forest Crosscountry Ski and Snowshoe Area. Nearly 15 miles of well-maintained, crisscrossing trails wind through 400 acres of pine forest and aspen groves with fine mountain views. On Saturdays before a full moon, take a moonlight tour that ends at the warming hut for hot drinks and cookies. Trail pass $10; multiday packages are available. 31/2 miles east of town on State 38 near the top of Bobcat Pass; 754-2374.

Fast Eddie's. Guided snowmobile tours of the backcountry from $40 per person for 1 1/2 hours. 619 E. Main St.; 754-3103.

Jewelry Lady.  506 E. Main; 754-2300.

NorthWind Gallery.  421 E. Main; 754-3365.

Red River Gallery of Fine Arts.  201 Pioneer Rd.; 754-6133.

Red River Ski & Snowboard Area. With a vertical drop of 1,600 feet from the highest point of 10,350 feet, the ski area has six lifts and one surface tow. Ski season is Thanksgiving to late March. Lift tickets $42, $37 ages 13-19, $28 ages 12 and under or 60 and over. 400 Pioneer; 754-2223 or www.redriverskiarea.com.

*Note: Area code is 505 unless noted.

 

DINING AND NIGHTLIFE

Black Crow Coffee House.  500A E. Main; 754-3150.

Black Mtn. Playhouse. Video games and roller-skating keep the kids busy at this teen and preteen gathering spot. 305 Pioneer; 754-2469.

Brett's. Filet mignon with roasted pine nuts and herb butter, crawfish étouffée, and rainbow trout make regular appearances in this former home with late-19th-century decor. 102 High Cost Trail; 754-6136.

Bull o' the Woods Saloon. For adults with extra energy, the cowboy two-step reigns here. 401 E. Main; 754-2593.

Capos Corner. Simple, hearty pastas and generous pizzas are geared toward hungry skiers. 110 Pioneer; 754-6297.

Motherlode Saloon. Another great dancehall. 410 E. Main; 754-6280.

Texas Reds Steakhouse. Plate-size steaks are a specialty, and the staff will urge you to just throw those peanut shells on the floor. 111 E. Main; 754-2964.

*Note: Area code is 505 unless noted.

 

LODGING

Auslander Condominiums. Tall pines frame this three-story chalet a few steps from the ski area base. 36 units, from $100 for a one-bedroom to $200 for an 8- to 10-person condo. 303 Pioneer; 754-2311, (800) 753-2311, or www.auslandercondominiums.com.

Lifts West Condominium Resort Hotel. The town's largest hotel has a hot tub on the balcony of the modern atrium lobby and an outdoor pool. 83 units, from $54 for a double room to $225 for a six-person condo. 201 Main; 754-2778, (800) 221-1859, or www.redrivernm.com/liftswest.

Riverside Lodge. Accommodations range from new riverbank condos beside the Copper Lift to rooms in the 105-year-old main building with its sloping landings and antiques-filled sunporch. 60 units, from $60 for a double room to $150 for a six-person condo. 201 E. Main; 754-2252, (800) 432-9999, or www.redriver-nm.com.

*Note: Area code is 505 unless noted.

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