Listen. The lyrics say it all …
There’s a place, I know, that I can go
where man still has room to roam.
Where’s the air’s still clear and the sky’s still blue,
Some of us were born here
And some of us just came
Through these mountains
Through these valleys
In soft New Mexico rain.
The words were penned by James Hobbs, who along with his wife, Cindy, founded the Flying J Ranch in Alto, just north of Ruidoso.
Says James of his “Song of New Mexico,” recorded in 1986, “We wanted to celebrate the West. We wanted to celebrate the great things about New Mexico.”
Succinctly said. This is what the Flying J Ranch embodies — a modern-day experience of the Old West. John Chisum drove cattle through here, as did Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. In fact, Goodnight is credited with inventing the chuck box that fit in the back of a horse-drawn Studebaker wagon.
James and Cindy Hobbs
James is a musician and has been most of his life. In the 1970s, he was playing with a band at the Lazy B Chuckwagon in Estes Park, Colorado. It was there he met his wife, Cindy, a self-taught musician and singer from Tennessee who won the Western Music Association’s national yodeling contest in 1991.
What was important about that to Cindy? “I got to meet Patsy Montana,” she says. Montana was the first female country performer to have a million-selling single with her signature song “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Cindy adds, “I love to do that song in our show. It’s a classic.”
History of the Flying J Ranch
The Lazy B was the business model the Hobbs used to build their own business, having bought land in Alto in 1982. “The concept of the Flying J is based on the old cowboy chuckwagon,” Cindy says. “We just built on it. We try to keep things as authentic as we can, painting a picture of what the West is and what New Mexico is.”
Why Ruidoso? James says, “This city has become a major tourist area in New Mexico.” During the season — from Memorial Day to Labor Day — people come from West Texas and other places, where the blazing sun bakes the land.
They’re seeking relief in the mountain air a mile and a half above sea level. “Our audience changes every week,” he adds.
A Family Business
But even better, Cindy notes, “As I’m getting older, I notice all these people who came when they were little kids now have kids of their own . . . and they’re bringing them here. I love that.”
So what’s the attraction? There’ve been other dinner theaters and other musical reviews. “I think the main thing,” Cindy says, “is there’s no big wall between us and them. We’re not on a big stage where people have to use binoculars to see us. We talk to them. They tell us about their families.”
Family. It’s their key to success. James says, “The Flying J is an extension of our family. When people are here, we want them to be treated like they would if they came to our home.”
The staff starts each day at 8 a.m. Daughter Emily Hobbs says, “We begin preparing food. We fix a broken table leg. We even shovel horse poop. Whatever’s needed, everyone pitches in.”
It shows. People are surprised when they see musicians gather on stage — men and women who just a bit earlier were serving them supper, leading their kid on a pony ride, or explaining the complexities of their music to fans gathered around an impromptu fiddler’s sideshow.
The Flying J Experience
People come for the chuckwagon-style supper. They stay for the music. On cattle drives, cowboys sat around the fire and ate and then got out their guitars and harmonicas and sang.
While guests wait for supper, they’re entertained, testing their skills at gold panning, cattle roping, or being deputized by Bonito City Sheriff Greg Meeks. But, of course, this being the Old West, there are cowboys — usually James Hobbs and Jayson Jones — who get into an argument. In moments, guns are whipped out, shooting starts, and a cowboy falls into the dust, soon to be pushin’ up daisies.
Then Cookie picks a kid to ring the triangular cowboy dinner bell. The gunfight actors dust themselves off and get ready to serve while people line up. Food is prepared in a kitchen, not off the dusty back of the chuck box, and cooked over an open fire.
People hold their aluminum plates to receive helpings of beef brisket and grilled chicken — meat cowboys didn’t have. Their mainstay was beans. The chuckwagon carried hundred-weight bags of beans, which Cookie — and the Flying J — made into a dish tasty enough to be welcomed at New York’s Delmonico’s.
There are biscuits from Cindy’s own “secret” recipe, potatoes, and chunky applesauce. Dried apples were the only produce that survived on the trail, and the cook turned them into apple crisp for dessert.
For Flying J diners, dessert is spiced cake. The really good thing about this supper is it’s all you can eat. So come on back for seconds . . . if you have room.
The ranch offers lemonade, iced tea, and “real” cowboy coffee. The grounds are put in a sock to brew. “And, yes,” says James, “We use a clean sock every time.”
At 8 p.m., it’s showtime. People are ushered into the Old Barn Opera House to listen to The Flying J Wranglers perform Western music — old favorites, like “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and new songs James Hobbs has written. The fun the Wranglers have on stage shows in their smiles and their banter. After the show, they mingle with the audience, answering questions, signing autographs, and making friends.
A recently added attraction is White Mountain Christmas at the Ranch. For two weeks during the holidays, the Flying J Ranch is illuminated by 10,000 twinkling lights. The supper’s the same, and the Wranglers perform on what the Hobbs call their Christmas Music Stage. But the spirit of the Old West is put on hold for the spirit of the season.
So how have the Hobbs done this for 40 years? “Having my family out here helped,” James says. “I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d enjoy having my family with us.” Their children helped in the kitchen, worked in the ice cream shop, and led pony rides.
“Now to have our daughter, Emily, and her husband, Mickey, and our two little grandboys out here only adds to the enjoyment.” It also means the next generation is learning to run the ranch in the future.
Flying J Ranch information can be found at flyingjranch.com.
Story by Bud Russo • Photos courtesy Flying J Ranch
Posted by Ruidoso.com