Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ski Apache (New Mexico)

Ski Apache is near the town of Ruidoso, almost straight south of Santa Fe. After miles and miles of solitary driving from Santa Fe on straight 2-lane highways where everyone seems to drive 75 - 80 mph and there are no speed traps, and very few cars, you suddenly come across the town of Ruidoso - which means "Noisy" in Spanish.  I asked several locals, and nobody knows why that name.  Later, I found out it is because of a noisy river: Rio Ruidoso. To name the town, they simply dropped the word Rio. Ruidoso is quite a tourist mecca, a year-round resort, somewhat comparable to Bend, Oregon.

Ski Apache is quite a sizable ski area, offering almost 2,000 vertical feet, and served by a gondola plus 6 other lifts (not counting a beginner lift at the base).  The blue structure in the photo is the base of the gondola, located at the level of the parking lot, so no climbing is needed.  I like that!.

In addition to the visible part of the mountain, there are three other lifts that are not visible in the photo, one serving a ridge on the left (out of the picture), and the other 2 lifts are serving the side of the mountain on the right of the picture (out of sight).

Another disappointment for me.  The Ski Apache ski area has just closed a few days ago. Never ski the southern States after the middle of March.  By the 3rd weekend in March, most ski areas will be closing.  A new storm just last night brought a few inches of fresh snow to many ski areas north of here, including Lake Tahoe, Utah, Colorado, and just the northern part of New Mexico (Santa Fe, Taos, Angel Fire), ... but there was no trace of it here in southern New Mexico.

So, my visit here turned more into a driving and sightseeing adventure, but an interesting one.  I drove up the 12 mile road from Ruidoso to Ski Apache. It's a steep and winding road, beautiful, but a bit scary in places. It rises fast to the higher elevations.  It's amazing how quickly the temperature dropped in just those 12 miles, about a degree and a half per mile.

Ruidoso sits at an elevation of 6,900 feet.  The top of Ski Apache is at 11,500 feet.  At the start of the 12 mile road to the ski area, the temperature was 43ºF.  At milepost 4, the temperature was down to 35º, at milepost 5 it was 32º, and at the ski area it was down to 26ºF.

The road has been cut and blasted from a very steep hill that shows several areas of loose rock that had to be reinforced and stabilized so as not to slide down. I wouldn't want to drive this road when it is icy!  When you look down from the higher elevations, the view is just like from an airplane.

Many of the more prominent turns in the road have been given colorful names, such as: Horseshoe bend, Oak grove, Shady Lane, Texas bend, Axle bend, Cat House, Windy Point, and Spring.  By the time you get to Spring, you can see the ski area.

Much of the snow has melted, but the terrain seems interesting.  I would certainly like to come back some day to ski it, ... but I don't particularly like the very long solitary roads and the long time it takes to drive to this area of New Mexico. 

I am beginning to understand what John Andrew in his journeys to ski all of North America, has called the "mind-numbing" hours spent on the road.  Here are a couple of pictures of the endless road.  

There are many like it.  This one happens to be highway 60 about 50 miles west of Socorro. 

I stopped at thist particular spot on the long straight highway 60, because there was a good view here of the VLA -- Very Large Array radio telescope, consisting of 27 large dish antennas spread out over several miles and connected to form a radio telescope that is larger than its components. It acts as if it were a single telescope 22 miles in diameter.  Each dish is about 80 feet in diameter, weighs over 200 tons, and can be moved on rail tracks to fine tune the telescope and achieve various configurations.

In the photo, in addition to the big dish in the foreground, you can also discern two other dishes in the distance. This is where some serious space exploration is happening, including the study of radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernova remnants, gamma ray bursts, radio-emitting stars, the sun and planets, black holes, and the hydrogen gas that constitutes a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy.

As for me, back on Earth, I drove west and stopped at the first town I got to in Arizona.  It's actually a set of two towns: Springerville and Eagar.  After miles and miles of desert-like nothingness, here is suddenly a town with several motels, a huge Safeway, and all the other amenities of civilization, such as gas stations, television, internet access, etc. 

Even though I am now in Arizona, this is still Apache country.  The actual county name is Apache County.  This area is described as "the coolest part of Arizona".

The Sunrise Park ski area is about a 30 minute drive south of Springerville.  And, yes, it's still open!   The last ski area still open in Arizona! I will ski there in the morning, and then head northwest to California.  My next destination is China Peak, near Fresno.

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