Retirees Enjoy Inspiring Mountain Scenery and a Laid Back Lifestyle in the High Altitude New Mexico Resort Village of Ruidoso
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
At 6,720 feet above sea level in the rugged Sierra Blanca Mountains of southern New Mexico and outside of the Ski Apache ski resort, the touristy but laid back village of Ruidoso (population 8,000) exudes a combination of rustic, mountain casualness and up and coming resort affluence. It got its start as an army outpost, and in the early 1880s, Billy the Kid roamed nearby. For much of the 20th century, it was a sleepy outpost that attracted ski bums, backpackers and cowboys. Within the last few decades, however, Ruidoso has caught the eye of vacationers, second home owners and retirees.
The population is racially diverse and mature. In fact, 55% of residents are age 45 or better (and many of them are retired Texans and Californians). Most people lean to the right politically, and 32% of locals hold at least a four year college degree. The crime rate meets the national average. Ruidoso has grown by nearly 70% within the last 10 to 20 years, and the cost of living is 2% above the national average.
The median home price is $220,000, and since being "discovered," Ruidoso has seen new subdivisions and retail developments spring up to mingle with older construction. Housing consists primarily of ranch ramblers, cabins and condominiums. Many homes are nestled among the pines, and older residences from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have prices starting at around $100,000. Manufactured homes on private mountain property start at around $80,000 or $90,000.
Ruidoso River Resort, a condominium property, usually has units for sale starting in the low- to mid-$200,000s. The master-planned Ranches of Sonterra, northeast of town, is a gated community with homes starting in the high-$300,000s. Million dollar homes with views to match are here, too. So are working ranches.
When it comes to taxes and retirement, New Mexico is a mixed bag. Social Security is taxed, but residents age 65 or better may receive an $8,000 retirement income exemption. To qualify, single filers must have an adjusted gross income less than $28,500. Married taxpayers filing separately must earn less than $25,500. An additional exemption of up to $2,500 for low- and middle-income taxpayers is available if annual adjusted gross income is $36,667 or less (singles), $27,500 or less (married filing separately) or $55,000 or less (married filing jointly or head of household). Tax rebates are available for people age 65 or better who earn less than $22,000 and for people who spend at least $28,000 on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Real estate is assessed at 33% of market value, and the taxable value may be further reduced by exemptions of $2,000 for heads of house holds and $4,000 for veterans. There is also property tax rebate of up to $250 for residents age 65 and older, depending on income. The annual taxes on a $220,000 Ruidoso home are roughly $1,450. The state sales tax is 5.12% (prescriptions drugs are exempt), and state income taxes range from 1.7% to 4.9%.
Ruidoso is one of the prettiest spots in all of New Mexico with 20% of the town's perimeter snuggled against the 1.2 million-acre Lincoln National Forest. Sierra Blanca Peak, 15 miles away, looms large. Ski Apache is popular, but residents also partake in other outdoor activities, including Jeeping, camping and hiking. Bonito Lake has opportunities for boating and fishing. With so much wilderness, it is more than possible to spend a day completely alone with nature and her bounty.
Shops, restaurants, retailers, motels and art galleries, many in adobe-style buildings, line the downtown. Tall pine trees, interspersed among buildings, cast long shadows. Big box stores are few, but everyday services such automotive repair, veterinarian services and dental care are available. Large retailers, including Sears and Wal-Mart, are in Ruidoso Downs, 10 miles to the east. Ruidoso golfers enjoy three public golf courses and two private ones. Four more courses are within 20 miles. There are more than 40 places of worship, including a racetrack chapel. Catholicism has a strong influence here.
Evenings are usually quiet, but the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts, a dramatic, world-class facility with eight stories, 500 seats, a waterfall and a crystal lobby, hosts visiting performances and community presentations throughout the year. A key tourist attraction is the Inn of the Mountain Gods Hotel, Resort and Casino which is located on the Mescalero Apache Reservation that borders Ruidoso. Here guests enjoy elegant accommodations, fine dining, 24-hour gambling, championship golf and tennis.
Several festivals and events happen in town and nearby. The Golden Aspen Motorcycle Rally draws 35,000 motorcycle enthusiasts every year. The Mountain Blues Festival takes place in June. The Ruidoso Art Festival in July is recognized as one of the top juried art shows in the United States, featuring more than 100 award-winning artists displaying work in a variety of fine art mediums, including glass, ceramics and photography. The Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, located in Ruidoso Downs, is the country's premier cowboy gathering (with real cowboys). The Smokey Bear Stampede, 20 miles north in Capitan, is held every July 4th. It features fireworks, a rodeo, music, chainsaw bear carving, a marketplace, a "calf scramble" and lots of food.
There is no public bus transportation. TNMO is the overland bus company that serves Ruidoso with rides to all points north, south, east and west. Sierra Blanca Regional Airport is open to private planes, but the nearest major airport is in Roswell. Ruidoso Shuttle provides rides to the Roswell airport.
Health care is provided by Lincoln County Medical Center (25 beds), which is managed by Presbyterian Healthcare Services (LCMC also has several clinics around town). It is accredited by the Joint Commission, and Medicare patients are accepted. Seventy-three percent of patients would recommend the hospital to a friend, which exceeds the national average. Further accredited medical care is available in Roswell (80 miles away and the home of space aliens), and in Alamogordo (32 miles away and no space aliens). For military retirees, the closest VA hospital is in El Paso, Texas, 115 miles away. Hobbs, 11 miles way, has a VA clinic.
The Ruidoso Senior Center is open Monday through Friday and has a variety of programs and services, including Wednesday noon potlucks, bridge games and various speakers. The Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) has a chapter here and is a good way to become involved in volunteer activities. The Ruidoso campus of Eastern New Mexico University offers continuing education classes and has a Lifelong Learning Academy with classes for the 55+ set. The Ruidoso Public Library has free Internet access, and there are at least nine free wi-fi spots in town.
The climate is a compelling reason to retire here. Summers are pleasant, moderated by the elevation, and are characterized by warm days, cool nights and lots of sunshine. Daytime temperatures average around 80 degrees. Indian Summer conditions often run through October, with temperatures in the 70s. Winter temperatures dip into the 20s with high temperatures in the 40s. On average, the area receives 35 inches of snow and 20 inches of rain each year. Humidity is very low. The air quality is good.
Ruidoso is small community with a big heart, but retirement here has some drawbacks. As throughout the West and Southwest, the water supply is an ongoing issue. This area has been experiencing a drought, and Ruidoso frequently has strict water restrictions in place. Wildfires are a threat, and the 2012 Little Bear Fire in nearby Lincoln National Forest was particularly destructive. It degraded area surface water, making Ruidoso reliant on reservoir and groundwater for the foreseeable future. This is a remote area, but U.S. Route 70, which was a major east to west highway before the interstate system arrived, runs through the village, bringing crowds of winter and summer tourists.
Even with these issues, Ruidoso casts a certain spell. Deer still graze in front yards, and neighbors stop to say hello to one another. Daytime skies are deep blue with puffy clouds, and evening skies shimmer with a thousand stars. The air is crisp and the natural surroundings are inspiring. Anyone wanting to retire in a casual locale with room to spread out should definitely give this high altitude hamlet a look.
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