(January 8, 2016)—Just like people, every town has a story. Red River, New Mexico has become one of the most sought after destinations for skiers, hikers, fishermen, and mountaineers alike. But, do you know it’s history? Find out how Red River, New Mexico built it’s reputation and how it lives up to it today.
A Colorful Past
It was known by many names. To the people of the Taos Pueblo it was Pee Ho Ghey Poe (red running stream); the Spanish who came in the 17th century named it Rio Colorado (colored or red river);
it was even known as Laguna, because of the presence of beaver dams and lakes that stretched the length of the valley. No matter the name, the Red River Valley was a beautiful place filled with natural wonder.
Following the end of the Civil War, a gold rush in the Moreno Valley just over the mountain saw the birth of Elizabethtown, a community that would number 5,000 people at its peak. Prospectors wandered into the Red River area in the early 1870’s but had little luck, returning to the streams around E-town.
In the 1880’s, the valley was quiet and remote, visited only by native hunters and by a few trappers looking for pelts and hides. Edward Westoby, Charles Compton and Will Sellers were among those who would hunt and trap the high country, returning in the 1890’s when gold and silver seekers began to have promising findings along the Red River.
A Town is Born
Established in 1895 and named for the cold, clear river that ran through its heart, Red River City soon became a classic gold camp, with all the excitement and “hoopla” of the end of the rainbow. Mines like the Black Copper, Golden Calf and the Silver King kept the Red River Mining District buzzing with excitement until the turn of the century. With shop, stores, hotels, saloons and the impending arrival of a railroad line, the town boasted a population of 3,000 adventurous souls by 1897. Prospectors like Italian immigrant Pietro “Pete” DelDosso and his faithful friend were a common sight throughout the valley, a symbol of persistence and tireless effort.
As was often the case in western “boom” towns, enthusiasm and energy often outweighed the actual realites. Transportation difficulties and the frequent presence of low grade ore spelled an end to grandiose plans. Many of the hard-working prospectors followed the rumors of new “finds” into the faraway canyons and frozen gulches of the klondike. By the New Year of 1906, only 300 people remained in the valley that once served as the bottom of an ancient lake.
Unlike so many Western communities that dried up and blew away when the mines played out, Red River City refused to die, choosing instead to embrace a new way of survival in the mountains. As early as 1900, newspapers and journals were printing glowing accounts of the recreational potential of the small mining community nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico. In addition to being touted as one of the finest trout fishing areas in the U.S., the breath-taking high country offered camping, hiking and sightseeing opportunities second to none. It was proclaimed as the ideal place to “just plain relax.”
In addition, the papers noted that the inhabitants were friendly and knew how to make a traveler feel welcome. It was, they said, the perfect vacation spot.
A New Direction
The town turned its attention to hospitality, sheltering, feeding and entertaining those travelers who dared to climb over Bob Cat Pass and descend on the steep and difficult road that lead from E-town to Red River City. With the help of the U.S. Forest Service, a new more passable road was constructed, open to traffic in spring of 1917. This wonder of engineering opened the gates and summer visitors soon had the valley aglow with new and prosperous activity.
The renewed community saw much growth during the 1920s and ’30s, with lodges, restaurants, stores and dance halls springing up to accommodate the public.
While mining had dwindled in the area, it never really ceased. Occasional bursts of interest saw activity increase at such places as the Caribel mine, the Big Five-Oro Fino and the Buffalo mine, which continue to attract investors throughout the Roaring 20’s. Even rejuvenated enthusiasm and optimism could not withstand the effect of the Great Depression and mining activity was relegated to the pages of history. Following the end of World War II, Red River began a new cycle of growth, which culminated in the opening of the Red River Ski Area in 1959. Fueled by the post-war interest in recreation, and snow skiing in particular, Red River became a year-round resort, attracting visitors from all over the nation and the world.
Today, Red River, NM, is once again a growing town. As the 21st century approaches, it is still renowned as a place to relax and have fun. In addition to the outdoor activities it has become famous for – skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, horseback riding, camping – Red River offers a full schedule of special events throughout the year. Events like the Old-Time Cowboy Christmas, Winter Carnival, NASTAR ski races and the extremely popular Mardi Gras in the Mountains keep the winter months filled with action and excitement for folks of all ages. Summer and autumn fun includes rodeos, parades, bike races, craft fairs and a Professional Lumberjack contest, to name only a few highlights.
RED RIVER SKI & SUMMER AREA STORY
The 1950s saw a surge of growth in Red River with many new lodges and restaurants springing up. After visiting the Santa Fe Ski Area, Oklahoma businessman Stokes E. Bolton and his wife, Billie, decided that Red River was a great summer resort town but needed a winter attraction. The Red River Ski Area (RRSA) was born.
With surplus steel from oil derricks for lift towers, the Red River Ski Area opened in December, 1959. Bolton hired Buzz Bainbridge, who had been managing the Santa Fe Ski Area, and lured German-born skiing ace Tony Woerndle away from Aspen, Colorado, to head up the first Red River Ski School.
Bolton soon sold his ski area to J.B. Veale. Meanwhile, other skiing standouts were lured to the new resort. Sigi Klein, who hailed from the European resort of Garmish, site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, came to Red River and was able to convince the legendary Erich Windisch, also from Garmish, to leave A Basin in Colorado. The tiny ski area was gaining a reputation in the industry, as well as creating thousands of new winter sport enthusiasts.
The 1980s saw a new group of owners, most notably, Drew Judycki, a young skier from Massachusetts who first came to New Mexico as a college student in the late-60’s. During his over three decades with the Red River Ski Area, Drew served as Director of Marketing, Ski School Director, General Manager and, finally, owner. Drew became the sole owner of the Ski Area in 1998, ten years before his untimely passing in 2008. Today, the Red River Ski Area continues as a family-owned and operated business, managed by a senior management team that includes Drew’s son Linton, daughter Lauren, and his brother Denny. Uniquely located directly adjacent to the town of Red River, the Ski Area’s focus is on exceeding the expectations of guest. Recent expansion and improvements continues to be placed upon the exceptional snowmaking and grooming systems, web based/e-commerce enhancements to improve serve to customers, and the significant expansion of summer activities/programs.
The Red River Ski & Summer Area today retains the small resort charm that was its trademark when the doors opened over 50 years ago.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE
A substantial portion of the Red River Ski & Summer Area is located on public lands under the stewardship of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. The Carson National Forest is one of five National Forests in New Mexico. The National Forests are America’s Great Outdoors, here to serve the American people at work and play! Some of the finest mountain scenery in the Southwest is found in the 1.5 million acres covered by the Carson National Forest. Elevations rise from 6,000 feet to 13,161 at Wheeler Peak, the highest in New Mexico. The RRSA operates under a long-term Special Use Permit with the Forest Service and is committed to the objective of maintaining the natural beauty that is offered to the public to use and enjoy.
On the National Register of Historic Places:
- Little Red School House Museum: At the Y and built in 1915 and used as a school house until 1942. Visit the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum.
- Vet Mallette Cabin: River Street and Copper King Trail
- Orrin Mallette Cabin: River Ranch
- Melson-Oldham Cabin: Tall Pine Lodge
- Pierce Fuller House: Two-story cabin at Silver Bell and High Street
Red River Historic Sites Locator Map
Click on the map above for a printable version of the Historic Sites Map.