The Verdant Fist That Is the Mescalero Apache Reservation
When most people think of New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache Reservation, they think of Geronimo, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas. And rightfully so; the reservation does comprise part of the Mescalero, Chiricahua and Lipan Apaches’ treasured homelands, and descendants of those celebrated 19th century leaders still make their homes here.
But there’s much more to this 463,000-acre reservation, which rises like a verdant fist from the surrounding New Mexico desert. Pocked with clear blue lakes and streams, cloaked in pine forests and capped with snow, this hidden gem might be one of the Southwest’s best-kept secrets.
1. Ski (and Bike!) Apache
During the winter months, tourists from across the Southwest and Mexico converge on Ski Apache, the southernmost ski and snowboard area in the United States. Owned and managed by the Mescalero Apache tribe, Ski Apache boasts more than 750 acres of skiable terrain and 10 lifts, including three quads, five triples, a handle tow, a conveyer lift and even a gondola. There’s a sledding area, too.
With a base elevation of 9,600 feet and a top elevation of 11,400 feet at “the Gazebo,” the resort has a vertical drop of nearly 2,000 feet, and its 55 runs cater to beginners, intermediate skiers and experts. You’ll find wide greens, comfortable-cruising blues, expert areas like bump runs and a large bowl, and a snowboarding terrain park with jumps, tubes and rails.
The area receives more than 15 feet of snow per year and has snow-making capabilities. And, thanks to its geographical location, it just might have some of the best skiing (and snowboarding, and sledding) weather on the continent.
If you’re planning a summer visit, you can ride the gondola to 11,400 feet and enjoy beverages or a meal at the Yurt Cafe; hiking is another favorite summer pastime here. The resort also has added 5.5 miles of mountain-biking trails with grades between 6 and 8 percent. They run from 11,981-foot Sierra Blanca Peak, which crowns the ski area, back to the base.
2. Championship Golf
Less than 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, the Mescalero Apache Reservation has roughly nine months of great golfing weather. The Inn of the Mountain Gods Championship Golf Course, designed by Ted Robinson, features an island fairway, fast-breaking greens, views of Sierra Blanca, Mescalero Lake and thick pine forests. Guests can take advantage of the clubhouse and pro shop, as well.
Golf Digest rated the course No. 23 on its list of “Top 40 Casino Golf Courses.” Golf Week proclaimed it “one of the top 50 golf courses nationally,” and Travel and Leisure said it’s “the most underrated golf course in the Southwest.” It also received the M&C Gold Tee Award for three consecutive years.
With this golf course, the tribe’s Inn of the Mountain Gods resort is recognized as one of the first Native American properties to combine the sport with casino gaming. The 18-hole course opens for the season in April; hotel guests can reserve tee times up to three months in advance.
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