Cloudcroft

From the west, U.S. 82 winds up and up into the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico, the tail end of the mighty Rockies. Just at a peak, it curves past a curious wooden structure that looks like a fragment of a bridge. That is The Trestle, an honored landmark of the Village of Cloudcroft.

Cloudcroft – the name meant “field of clouds” in the slang of the Scottish railroad engineers who begat the place – is the resort built by the abundant Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines found at “9,000 feet above stress level,” as the locals put it. It was built by the logs and of the logs, as the many cabins, cottages and even larger residences scattered through the rocky hillsides demonstrate.

Logging opportunities first attracted the late-19th-century entrepreneurs who created Cloudcroft. The best way of getting the logs out of the mountains and down 5,000 feet to the main railroad at Alamogordo was by train. Would-be logging moguls built a single-gauge rail line that wound up from the valley at La Luz and into Mexican Canyon south of what would become Cloudcroft. Making a virtue of necessity, in 1899 they ballyhooed the line as a “resort train,” bringing gasping, heat-logged flatlanders into the cool summertime temps of high altitude. A pavilion hotel was built, and lots were sold for summer lodges. Before long, an exclusive hotel, the Lodge at Cloudcroft, was established on a peak above the burgeoning village. For the first 40 years of its existence, Cloudcroft was only reached by the train. The pause for a long look at the vista opening from the trestle was a highlight of the trip up the mountain. The cool summer breezes were a sure antidote to the “summer complaint” (heat fever) that annually worried mothers from The Flatlands (Alamogordo, El Paso and Las Cruces). Many a mother spent the summer in Cloudcroft with her children while her harried husband commuted from the flats on weekends.

During World War II, a highway was built to give visitors and residents quicker access to Alamogordo and its air base, ammunition dump and other military facilities. The Cloudcroft railroad was abandoned and then dismantled in 1948.

But the village is still there, with its distinctly Western-style charm. The population hovers around 800 most of the year, but swells to 3,500 or more when the summer visitors arrive. There’s a town-that-time-forgot air to the village; it’s that village it takes to raise a child. Cloudcroft is where grade-school children still play leapfrog at recess, to the bemusement of teachers who’ve emigrated from more stressful, urban districts. Stroll down its main street, Burro Street, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered onto a movie set. Have a beer and play a set of pool in the Western Bar. Rent a mountain bike and enjoy nearby trails in the Lincoln National Forest that surrounds the village.

Drive up the winding road to The Lodge and have a martini or margarita in its cellar bar while you wait for a table in the luxurious dining room. Play golf on a high-altitude course that has amused visitors from Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Lee Trevino—a drive from the first tee goes straight down about 400 feet and then doglegs to the right! Built in 1899, the course follows the Scottish tradition of playing different tees and separate flags on each hole. The nine-hole course, when played twice, makes for an 18-hole round that challenges both hackers and pros.

There’s fishing near Cloudcroft, and horseback riding at nearby ranches. The village is anything but backward, just determined to keep it simple. The Cloudcroft Light Opera Company performs melodrama and vaudeville during the summer. There are barbecues in the park. A new bakery recently opened on Burro Street and features beignets made by its New Orleans-trained owner.

And the Trestle remains, restored and stabilized. These days you can walk an easy 2.8-mile trail (a couple of steep climbs) to the Trestle Recreation Area, and relax and watch the ravens play in the thermal updrafts of the canyon below the structure. They, too, enjoy the quiet charm of Cloudcroft.