DAWN BEGINS AS A DEEP BLUE lifts the darkness just off the edge of the dome’s view at El Místico Ranch. Then gold and pink spill across the sky, bright on the rocky bands of Carrizo Peak and wispy clouds scattered toward the horizon. A breeze swings the branches of piñon trees that edge the deck. The dome’s clear vinyl panels form a thin veil between my accommodations and the outdoors. I scan the hills for elk, deer, coyotes, and bears, all known to live on this 30-acre parcel where the Saenz family is creating a village of wonders.
Originally, the family planned to buy a cabin in Ruidoso as a retreat during the pandemic. But the moment they walked into the main house, on a ridge of Sierra Blanca above Nogal Canyon, they couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Mountain views poured into a room with a massive fireplace, dark vigas, wrought-iron railings, and alcoves notched into the adobe walls.
As the pandemic wore on, however, something happened. “We were a bit bored,” jokes Enrique Saenz, who bought the property with his parents and siblings. The family decided to create what has since grown into El Místico Ranch, starting with a treehouse the previous owner had built for his granddaughter. They replaced a trap-door entry with a spiral staircase that leads to a deck, added electricity and running water, built a bathroom and kitchen table around tree branches, and posted the place as a vacation rental. The first week it was rented, several feet of snow fell. The pipes froze. Enrique and his fiancée, Victoria Platt, who had both worked on marketing the property, happened to be staying at the main house and spent the week hauling buckets of water to the treehouse for the guests. “They loved it!” Victoria says now, laughing.
“Once we found out what a hit it was, and how much fun it was to build and design, our imaginations started running wild,” she says.
Two domes (with a third, the biggest yet at 30 feet in diameter, expected to be completed this spring) balance atop wooden decks on the shoulder of a plateau, past the Airstream trailer and a soon-to-be Tipi Village. The domes’ all-white vinyl exteriors blend with the pale sky and are insulated to resist chilly high-desert nights.
The project has recruited the entire Saenz family to a labor of love, but they all put down their tools to come say hello. Pelon, the patriarch, and his son Alejandro pause after bolting a corkscrew slide to a balcony off the newest addition, the Crow’s Nest. They walk me up a staircase they carved from a single tree and across a wooden bridge to the treehouse-like structure.
At Enrique’s urging, I wander the property at dusk, when lights twinkle among the trees, hidden windchimes tinkle, and the first evening stars emerge in sharp pinpoints. The next morning, I’ll repeat loops around the property, investigating its corners and traveling once in each direction because each time I turn around, there’s something I missed—a face on a tree, a quirky sign about bears or Bigfoot. This summer, electric bikes will be available to rent, for ripping up a dirt road that wends along a grassy meadow.
I snuggle into the Freya dome for the evening, cozy with a pellet stove and an interior that leans into Norse mythology with a bounty of shag, faux fur, and antlers in the decor. A Victrola waits to serenade, and a typewriter faces the clear wall, begging time at its keys.
It’s “glamping,” Enrique had warned, telling me not to expect the full amenities of a hotel. But downstairs, there’s a full bathroom with a shower, and a half-kitchen with a mini-fridge, a sink, and a Keurig. Outdoors, a sink, a grill, two hammocks, and a table tucked under a juniper occupy a private patio.
I’ve been up since watching the dawn, expecting an early start to the day, but with so many pleasant nooks to enjoy, I sink into stillness until well after I’d planned to head out for a hike, each alcove inviting a little more lingering.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Nogal Peak spikes the horizon line and can be seen from some of the domes. A short drive leads to a trailhead for a 2.5-mile round-trip hike to its summit.
Spot birds, wildlife, and handprints among the dense assortment of rock art at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, midway between Tularosa and Carrizozo.