THE LOCAL SKINNY
The Colorful History of Eagle Nest
Situated on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Eagle Nest is a small summer-home and resort area. Originally named Therma, the village was renamed Eagle Nest in the 1930s. The town is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico near the Colorado-state line.
Located at just over 8,200 feet in elevation, it’s now known as an oasis for "flatlanders" looking to escape Texas and Oklahoma’s sweltering summer heat. This charming New Mexican town of less than 300 people has a rather dramatic, colorful history involving gunslingin’ vigilantes and even a bit of corruption (as many others did in the Wild West). Today, the area is known for its world-class fishing, epic mountain landscapes, and abundance of outdoor sports, while retaining its historical roots.
For centuries, Eagle Nest was nothing more than a crossroads for Ute and Jicarilla Indians in search of game and ceremonial feathers. While East Coast newspapers were fixated on Indian invasions out West, Eagle Nest’s problems in the early days were almost always due to fighting between white settlers and land grant companies over the area’s natural resources. This never ending conflict of interests resulted in many battles and uprisings. The corrupt companies were constantly trying to push out settlers with scare tactics and hired lawyers, sheriffs, and actual outlaws to help impose unfair taxes and threaten families. The settlers continued to fight back, and the conflict went on for decades.
Finally during the 1900s, the land was subdivided between ranchers, loggers, and private organizations. East Coast elites built mansions on their estates and hosted fancy parties for their friends, including the likes of Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, the mining towns in the area eventually ran out of gold, leaving them uninhabitable. Elizabethtown, about five miles north of Eagle Nest, is one such ghost town that is worth a visit when you’re passing through on the scenic byway. The town’s museum is located in a former schoolteacher’s home and is filled with artifacts from the area’s heyday.
Big changes came to the area in 1918, when the Eagle Nest Dam was built. It was the largest privately constructed dam in America: a massive structure created to store surplus water from the Cimarron River for power plants, mining, and irrigation. It also created a huge lake, which was soon stocked with trout. Before long, this (now) quiet farming community morphed into a tourism mecca for fishermen, cowboys, and outdoor enthusiasts during the warmer months. In the winter, families started selling blocks of ice from the lake.
Eagle Nest remained relatively peaceful until the 1920s when illegal gambling became popular. Almost overnight, Eagle Nest became a party town full of slot machines, saloons, drinking, and dancing. In the 1940s, the town was busted for illegal gambling. While most slot machines were destroyed with axes, it’s rumored some were thrown in the lake by owners trying to avoid arrest, and local legend says that you can see them at the bottom of the lake when the water is low.
Today: Gateway to the Enchanted Circle
While Eagle Nest doesn’t attract party animals or gunslingin’ outlaws anymore, it’s become an important starting and ending point for tourists exploring the Enchanted Circle. Surrounded by state parks and national forests, Eagle Nest offers year-round outdoor recreation including some of the best skiing, big game hunting, and hiking you’ll find anywhere in the state. Anglers from all over the country come to the area to fly fish in streams or cast lines in arguably the best lake for trout fishing in the Southwest.
Eagle Nest also offers some of the state’s best big game hunting on both public and private lands, which are home to trophy elk, bear, and mountain lion. Activities like camping, rock climbing, ATV riding, biking, hiking, wildlife viewing, and horseback riding also continue to draw people to the area. After exploring the outdoors, check out Main Street, where you can find locally made arts and crafts, fudge, sculptures, sterling silver, Native American jewelry, souvenirs, and everything in between.
While the town itself still has that historic Wild West feel (complete with a swinging door saloon), Eagle Nest is mostly inhabited now by either descendants of early ranchers or visitors who couldn’t bring themselves to leave. Given the beauty of the area, the perfect summer weather temperatures, and the laidback pace of the town, who can blame them?
Since local business owners rely almost entirely on summer tourists, outsiders are embraced like family. In stark contrast to its wild past, Eagle Nest is now a hospitable community where nature is greatly appreciated. This fascinating town is not to be missed!
Originally written by RootsRated for New Mexico.
EAT | DRINK | FISH
Eagle Nest has always been known as a laid-back mountain town. The sidewalks and old-fashioned streetlights, park benches and flower boxes along Eagle Nest's main street make a stroll through the village a pleasure.
There are several nearby restaurants with fabulous food, and some shoppes with out-of-this-world shopping. Eagle Nest is a haven for fishermen and other outdoor lovers, and a gateway to the Enchanted Circle.
The Village of Eagle Nest is situated on the north shore of majestic Eagle Nest Lake, which in itself is a fisherman's "wet" dream, a bird-watcher's nest, and a nature lovers paradise.
SNOW SPORTS & ADVENTURES
Come ski and ride the winter sun on the incredible slopes in the Land of Enchantment! Our three very near ski areas dotted throughout the Valley will provide you with the ultimate in sporting options, stunning scenery, And — oh yes — exceptional skiing and riding.
RED RIVER HISTORY
In 1895 a family of farmers had spent the previous winter camped on the banks of the Rio Colorado – Spanish for “colored” or “red river” – in a high country valley of Northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo – Blood of Christ – mountains.
The soil was fertile, as the valley floor had once been a series of beaver dams and lakes, rich with nutrients, so crops grew well in the relatively mild climate. The Mallette brothers, who had come from nearby Ft. Garland, Colorado, found themselves quite at home.
But it was not agriculture that brought people streaming into the remote valley in the spring of ‘95. As early as 1870, miners from over the mountain in Elizabethtown, the Moreno Valley boom town that sprang up following the end of the Civil War, had searched the Red River Valley looking for any trace of “color” in the streams and along the river bank. Their efforts were not rewarded. But now, twenty-five years later, new exploration had met with more promising results and soon the quiet little valley was abuzz with rainbow chasers looking for the elusive pot of gold.
Like most western gold camps, the hopes and dreams of hard rock miners were never more than desperate longings for success. Low grade ore quality, prohibitive transportation costs and an abundance of ground water that flooded tunnels, adits and shafts put an end to the golden dreams of Red River City. The rainbow chasers moved on and, by 1905, the population had dwindled to approximately 150 hardy souls.
As mining ceased to be the focus of the local economy, a new industry was just beginning to make promising overtures to the locals. Albuquerque papers and magazines were starting to refer to Red River as a natural trout fishing paradise and a great way to escape the summer heat. Travelers and vacationers began to rent abandoned mining cabins and rent horses for the purpose of riding into the surrounding mountains to view the spectacular vistas. Red River was reborn and the hospitality business has transformed the town into a one trick pony.
Angel Fire Bike Park is the largest Bike Park in the Rocky Mountains and has been voted Best in the Southwest by MTBparks.com six years in a row! Come experience our 2,000+ vertical feet, 60+ miles of purpose-built, lift-served terrain featuring the best skinnies, jump lines, manicured flow and super chunk trails the United States has to offer.
Whether you choose to ride a bicycle on the road or trail, think safety first. Always pack rain gear; always ride single file on roadways and beware of fast traffic from in front and behind; know that dehydration is common; and carry a first aid kit, food and repair kit, especially when biking off road. Use common sense, practice safety and follow laws and regulations. Consult local bike shops, officials and riders. Ride in groups. Plan, prepare use your head and count only on yourself.
VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL & CEMETARY
The Memorial was established in 1968 by Victor & Jeanne Westphall to honor their son, Lt. David Westphall, who was killed in Vietnam in May 1968. When it opened in 1971, it was one of the first memorials of its kind in the United States dedicated to Vietnam Veterans. In July, 2017 the Memorial was transferred to the Department of Veteran Services and has added a museum alongside of the original memorial.
The first and only state park in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to Vietnam veterans is located in Angel Fire, New Mexico. The Memorial was built to honor those who served, promote healing and provide education. Highlights include a Veterans Walkway, viewing of the film Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, a gift shop and exhibits.
The Little Red School House
The Little Red School House, located on Jayhawk Trail behind the Red River Public Library at “the Y,” was built around 1916 to replace the original log schoolhouse which was destroyed by fire. The building was the seat of education in town until classes were discontinued in the early 1940s. It continued, however, to serve the community as social meeting hall, church and funeral parlor for many years.
In 1999, the building was moved from its original location on the banks of Bitter Creek to its present location. Today the school proudly houses the collection of the Red River Historical Society. In addition to photos and artifacts of the early days of town, a recreation of a period-style classroom allows visitors a glimpse of high country education. An outdoor exhibit of mining equipment adjoins the building.
The museum is open during summer and fall. The hours vary but should be posted on the door.
There is no admission charge, but donations are the lifeblood of museum operation.