Since Red River Miner newspaper editor and musician Fritz Davis arrived in Red River in 1989, one thing has remained the same: “The kind of people who come here and stay are the same people they’ve always been,” he says. “They dream of living in the mountains at a different pace of life from what they were doing before.” He says Red River’s 500-some residents also share a deep connection to nature. The mountain town, 36 miles north of Taos in northern New Mexico, is surrounded by the 1 million-acre Carson National Forest. The residents are on such friendly terms with nature that Davis describes even the deer as neighbors.
Hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor recreation abounds. Davis points to Malette Canyon Park, set on the edge of Red River, where a manicured lawn segues seamlessly into rugged country. “The huge rock formations up there are indescribable,” he says. “Most people don’t know it’s there, because it’s not on a main street.”
Malette Creek runs through the park. Miners once sifted its waters panning for the gold that was plentiful in these parts. The town of Red River owes its 1895 start to the mining industry. Hundreds of shuttered mines still dot the hillsides. One lies just off the Columbine Trail, a popular route marked with its namesake wildflowers come summer. In town, the 1915 one-room Little Red School House Museum lets kids (and kids at heart!) experiment with mining tools outside and displays historic mining photos inside. The building is one of five in town on the National Register of Historic Places.
After the mines played out, homesteaders and vacationers followed. Destinations like the family-owned Red River Ski & Summer Area has celebrated outdoor adventures for more than 60 years. Warm-weather thrill rides include the zip line, mountain tubing, and an aerial bike park. Winter brings deep powder and short lift lines.
Red River’s Old West past is never far away. Restaurants like Texas Reds Steakhouse satisfies miner-size hearty appetites with slab-like steaks and baked potatoes. The ambiance at Love Lost Saloon, Motherlode Saloon, and Bull o’ the Woods Saloon also drafts off Red River’s past. Red River Brewing Company & Distillery, which bills itself as the highest-elevation brewery and distillery in the state, is the new kid in town. In most seasons, live music filters out of these saloons several nights a week—and at many of the annual year-round festivals. (Bring your dancing shoes.)
Davis says Red River’s music scene dates to the 1960s, when Ray Wylie Hubbard and his Texas-based band Three Faces West escaped the Lone Star State’s heat and opened a Red River café where they also played. Their friends soon followed, among them singer-songwriters Michael Martin Murphey, Rusty Wier, and Bob Livingston. These acts have been a boon to local musicians like Davis, who’s played every venue in town. One year, he even covered for a band that canceled last minute before the town’s Mardi Gras in the Mountains event. Every year since, his alter ego, Fritti Fonteneau, has played the six-day celebration with his own brand of Cajun, Zydeco, and blues music.
Many times, however, the best music comes from the actual Red River, which rushes along the edge of town. It’s where you’re likely to find Davis on his days off. “Nature has been something integral to the history of the town since the beginning,” he says. “We don’t take living here for granted. And what’s more we enjoy sharing it.”