The Beauty & History of New Mexico's Moreno Valley
For us, the Moreno Valley, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northeastern New Mexico, is a magical place of beauty and history.
Nestled between the state’s two highest peaks – Baldy Mountain (12,441 feet) and Wheeler Peak (13,161 feet), the town of Eagle Nest, formerly called Therma, sits at the junction of US Hwy 64 and State Hwy 38. High above sea level, at 8,300 feet, the village rests on the western slope of Baldy and Touch Me Not Mountain (pictured above), an area rich in Gold Rush history. The community was started back in the late 1800s.
In 1873 Charles and Frank Springer founded the CS Ranch on the banks of the Cimarron River, and in 1907 they applied for a permit to build the Eagle Nest Dam. The dam was completed in 1918 to store the surplus waters of the Cimarron River for power plants, mining, and irrigation. Most of the labor for building the dam was provided by the Taos Pueblo Indians.
The largest privately constructed dam in the United States, the concrete structure is 400 feet wide, stands 140 feet above the river bed, and is 9.5 feet thick at its crest and 45.2 feet thick at its base. Supposedly, eagles built nests on the sides of the new dam, and that’s how it got its name.
The 2,200 acre Eagle Nest Lake offers excellent fishing. In the winter, anglers wander out onto its frozen surface, drill a hole and try their hand at landing kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout. Ice fishing usually begins in January, and open water fishing usually starts in April.
Along with the fishermen, entrepreneurs also arrived, building businesses and transforming the quiet farming community into a tourist mecca, providing entertainment to the visiting cowboys, fishermen, and other tourists. Eagle Nest became a popular spot along the road from Santa Fe to Raton, where politicians and other travelers attended the horse races.
In 1927, Walter Gant, an oilman from Oklahoma, hired a businessman by the name of William B. Tyer to oversee the construction of the grandest resort that Eagle Nest had ever seen — the Eagle Nest Lodge.
Considered the finest lodge for miles, it soon expanded to include a guest annex that featured five studio units with their own bathrooms and kitchenettes. This lodge has an interesting history and we've followed its story since the early 2000s.
In the 1920s, illegal gambling was introduced to the area. The El Monte Hotel (now the Laguna Vista), as well as Doughbelly’s Cafe (formerly the building pictured above), and The Gold Pan were said to have offered roulette and gaming tables, as well as slot machines. Slot machines were also found in many of the stores.
Eagle Nest was in its heyday during the 1930s, with disputes often resulting in shots fired back and forth across Main Street. Reportedly one saloon owner was known to provide free wine to those who came through its doors, which would inevitably lead to fights and discord among the rowdy customers. The saloon “advertised” the rowdies as free entertainment.
The El Monte, established in 1898, was allegedly built with stolen railroad ties, which are still visible in some of the rooms. Now called the Laguna Vista Resort, it still operates a saloon, restaurant, and hotel with great views of the lake.
It's also allegedly haunted. Customers and staff have reported that a woman in dance-hall dress often appears, then vanishes toward the site of the hidden staircase. In talking with a former employee of the Laguna Vista, Kristi Dukes, who was a cook in the restaurant in 1999, she stated that she encountered several spooky visits from a spirit that is said to have once been a saloon girl in the old lodge. On one such occasion, a marble rolling pin was thrown at Kristi, on other occasions pots and pans would fall off of the walls.
Elizabethtown, NM - Main Street, 1943Main Street in Elizabethtown New Mexico, by John Collier, 1943.
Rich in history and once full of life with over 7,000 residents, it is hard to imagine Elizabethtown as it once was. Now, the sparse remains of the once-bustling boom camp look silently upon the Moreno Valley and the face of the imposing Baldy Mountain.
In June 1867, Captain William Moore and his brother, John Moore, opened a general store southwest of the peak of Baldy Mountain to supply the many miners who were streaming into the territory. Before the month was out it was clear that the general store would become the center of a town, and Moore began construction on the first house in the rapidly growing settlement. The very next year, Moore and other businessmen platted a townsite, incorporated the village (the first in New Mexico), and began selling lots at prices ranging between $800 and $1200.
The town was named after the captain’s daughter, Elizabeth Catherine Moore, who had just turned four years of age but it was quickly nicknamed E-Town by most of the locals. Elizabeth Moore was the first school teacher and lived her entire life in Elizabethtown.
For about five years E-Town reigned as one of New Mexico’s most important towns, but mining operations began to diminish dramatically. The fever cooled as mining costs started to out-weigh the volume of ore produced. The settlement was reduced to about 100 residents and lost its “county seat” status to Cimarron in 1872. By 1875 it was a ghost town, but it was given a second chance in 1878 when a railroad extended its track from Trinidad into New Mexico. The town would do well again, but only until about 1917 when the mines played out.
In the not too distant past, E-Town sported a museum to help tell the history of this old mining town. But in recent years it has shut down and several buildings moved down by the old store and hotel ruins. Where the museum once stood is now a private residence.
E-town has a few stories still to tell, including one of serial killer Charles Kennedy, and how Gunslinger Clay Allison took his head to display in front of a saloon.
Angel Fire, on the way to Taos from Eagle Nest, is the newest community in the Moreno Valley. It was only a concept until the 1960s when landowners began to envision a “resort” area, complete with fishing, hunting, skiing, and more.
In 1954, Roy and George LeBus of Wichita Falls, Texas, bought the 9,000 acre Monte Verde Ranch and in 1956 purchased another 14,000 acres, comprising the Cieneguilla Ranch, from the Maxwell Land Grant Company.
Ten years after the initial purchase, they decided to develop the property into a resort community. They called the new development “Angel Fire,” the phrase that Kit Carson had long ago coined after the old Indian lore.
In 1966, construction began in earnest, and after about 18 months, the early ski trails were cut, a nine-hole golf course was complete, and Monte Verde Lake was ready for visitors.
In 1972 the resort was sold to the Baca Grande Angel Fire Corporation. By 1973, Angel Fire was visited by more than 20,000 skiers. In the same year, the Country Club and Starfire Lodge were added.
Over the next several decades, the resort was sold numerous times, struggling through the recession of the 1980s, becoming involved in endless legal battles, and finally winding up in bankruptcy. In 1996, most disputes were finally settled, and the resort was purchased by a limited partnership group.
Today, Angel Fire provides winter visitors with downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing through alpine meadows, snowmobiling, ice fishing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and more. For summer mountain enthusiasts, the resort offers fishing and small boat rentals at Monte Verde Lake, hiking, biking, golf, tennis, horseback riding, and beautiful mountain views along with the cool mountain air.
Idlewild & the Klondyke Mine
Though the gold rush had petered out in the Moreno Valley in New Mexico by the early 1900s, some were still convinced that “there was gold in them thar hills.” Fred Montague of Chanute, Kansas was one that still believed. He, along with four other investors, purchased property on the edge of Eagle Nest and dug three tunnels in 1920, two of which showed little promise, but one would become the Klondyke Mine.
Unfortunately, only after the mill was built did the investors find, in 1926, that the grade of ore found needed to be smelted, and the nearest facility was in Pueblo, Colorado. Trucking the ore to Pueblo was too expensive to justify continuing the endeavor.
In the 1940s the mine was abandoned as a business venture.
Idlewild developed adjacent to the Klondyke Mine in the 1930s. Thomas Cook, from Texas, purchased 160 acres adjacent to the mine so that his family might enjoy the retreat that he called “Idlewild.”
Deciding to develop the property, he began selling lots in 1931 for $6 and 12 people bought lots in the new development.
The following year 87 people purchased property and the area continued to develop through the years.
The Klondyke Mill was torn down on January 17, 2011, over liability concerns, but there are still some remnants of the mining operation.
Idlewild, New Mexico is where Legends of America founder and editor, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, gained her interest in American History. Kathy spent summers here as a child in her Grandparents Ben and Irene Foster’s cabin. It was Irene and the rich history of the Moreno Valley that sparked the passion which became a website called High Country Legends in 2002, then transformed into Legends of America on June 27, 2003.
The entire Moreno Valley was once part of the Largest Land Grant in U.S. History. Read about the Maxwell Land Grant HERE.
Next in our Travel Blog, we cover more history in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including some Santa Fe Trail which is celebrating it's 200th Anniversary.
We stayed over a week in Golden Eagle RV Resort and Grill, on the edge of Eagle Nest and just down the mountain from Idlewild. This was a great stay. The onsite restaurant is incredibly good, they have all the facilities you would expect, and the travelers in the park were very friendly. Highly recommend checking them out, and we will of course be back.
JoeySquirrelOur newest member to the Legends' Team, Joey Squirrel Alexander.
We came to the Foster cabin this month to do some clean-up and work. On Saturday, August 7th, our newest team member Joey walked out of the cabin unnoticed and quickly disappeared. I spent the rest of the day searching up and down the roads through Idlewild, talking to anyone and everyone I could. Kathy posted a notice on the communities Facebook page. By Sunday, there were many residents out and about in their golf carts, etc, all in search of our Joey Squirrel. By Monday, I had mostly given up the search, but kept my eye out and obsessed over the possibilities of what happened. When you think about all the prey on a mountainside, and how this little 7 pound Maltese would be a tasty morsel, well, you can imagine the nightmares and angst Kathy and I were going through. On Tuesday, Kathy and I were resigned to the fact we had lost forever our newest fur baby. Joey, being a rescue from a commercial breeder, had never been in the mountains, and has no fear of anything it seems. I thought for sure she had walked up to a bear or something.
Joey FoundIdlewild Caretaker Joe Romero holding our Joey after she had wandered the mountains for 6 days.
It was a long week. We had planned to leave on Thursday, but extended our stay another couple of nights, holding out hope for a miracle, but knowing deep down she was gone. The community of Idlewild never gave up though, and we heard that there were people looking for Joey every day.
That Thursday afternoon, August 12, after a full 6 days missing, we got the call that our Joey had been found. Idlewild Caretaker Joe Romero greeted me with Joey in hand, smiling probably at the look on my face as I pulled up to the caretaker's cabin.
Kathy thinks I'm being a little silly, and that no one is interested in the strange coincidences that make up the Miracle of finding Joey. But I can't help but share this with y'all.
- She was found a mile away from Idlewild on Taos Pueblo Tribal land after six days missing.
- Our dog Riley died on the Paiute Reservation in Arizona back in March on the 17th, St. Patrick's Day.
- Thursday was our Grand Daughter Graci's 17th Birthday. It was also my late father's birthday.
- Joey was ultimately located by a guy named Joe.
- Another Idlewild resident, someone we’ve never met, had told Joe (the caretaker) that if Joey happened to be found to contact her, as she lives in Clinton, just 30 miles from our home in Warsaw, MO. Her calling to tell me that they had found our Joey Squirrel was an absolutely mind-blowing experience.
A special thank you from Kathy and me to all the Idlewild residents who never gave up hope on finding our furry kid.
Yes, Native Magic and prayers create miracles.
Joey the day after being FoundJoey says "Let me get this straight, I spend 6 days wandering the forest and now I have to wander this graveyard?" Now Let's Go Adventure!
Keywords: Angle Fire, Eagle Nest, Elizabethtown, history, Idlewild, information, Klondyke Mine, New Mexico, photos, prints, travel
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