Northeastern New Mexico, the enchanted circle
Anyone who has not spent time in Northeastern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristos Mountains just simply don’t know what they’re missing.
It’s a beautiful place, cool and refreshing, and with a remarkable history. Pure Old West.
My wife and I just returned from spending two weeks in Angel Fire, New Mexico, in the Moreno Valley where temperatures averaged in the upper 30s and lower 40s at night with highs in the low to mid seventies.
That’s while the Dallas area was sweltering in 100 plus degree heat.
Needless to say a return here was pure culture shock!
In the vicinity of Angel Fire are many interesting and historical things to see and do.
For example, a trip to Cimarron, New Mexico, opens many opportunities to experience history.
The St. James Hotel is an absolute must see.
During its life its been visited by such folks as Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody and Black Jack Ketchum.
Its also been visited by gunslingers such as Clay Allison who is rumored to have danced naked on the bar at the St. James.
Rumor even has it the St. James is haunted, although during my visit no apparitions made their presence felt.
Opening in 1872, Henri Lambert originally owned the hotel.
He had first settled in Elizabethtown hoping to find gold, but moved to Cimarron in 1872 and built the St. James at a cost of $17,000.
Its saloon, restaurant and 43 rooms were a welcome way stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Lambert Inn, as it was called, was one of the best hotels west of the Mississippi.
"Cimarron" in Spanish means "wild" or "unruly" and the name was appropriate in Cim-arron’s rowdy early days as evidenced by the 26 murders (most committed in "self-defense," of course) and more than 20 bullet holes still in the ceiling of the St. James’ dining room.
Texan Bob Funk now owns the hotel. Funk, former businessman and chairman of the Federal Reserve, also owns the Express UU Bar Ranch just outside of town.
The hotel is undergoing extensive renovations with the goal of returning it to its roots.
According to Funk, that means restoring a more authentic "Western theme."
All the antiquated furnishings in the lobby have been reupholstered to bring them back to their original state and Lucien B. Maxwell himself owned many of the pieces.
More history on Maxwell later.
Chef Ralph Knighton, head chef at the Express UU Bar Ranch and whose career includes eight years as chef to then-Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, is taking over as the executive chef at the St. James.
The goal is to make the dining room into a world-class restaurant.
On the other side of the mountains from Angel Fire is Taos (pronounced like house), New Mexico.
Taos was established in about 1615 as Fernandez de Taos, following the Spanish conquest of the Indian Pueblo villages.
Initially, relations of the Spanish settlers with Taos Pueblo were amicable, but resentment eventually built and led to a revolt in 1640.
Taos Indians killed their priest and a number of Spanish settlers, then fled the pueblo and did not return until 1661.
In 1680 Taos Pueblo joined the widespread Pueblo Revolt.
After the Spanish Reconquest of 1692, Taos Pueblo continued armed resistance until 1696, when Governor Diego de Vargas defeated the Indians at Taos Canyon.
During the 1770s Taos was repeatedly raided by Comanches who lived on the plains of what is now eastern Colorado.
Juan Bautista de Anza, governor of the Province of New Mexico, led a successful punitive expedition in 1779 against the Comanches leading to a period of relative calm with them.
After the U.S. takeover of New Mexico in 1847, Hispanics and Amerindians in Taos staged a rebellion, known as the Taos Revolt, in which the newly appointed U.S. Governor, Charles Bent, was killed.
Taos was also home to a famous frontiersman, General Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson.
Born in Kentucky in 1809, Carson spent most of his childhood in Missouri and left home at an early age to become a trapper.
In the 1840s, Carson served as a guide and scout for John C. Fremont and these expeditions afforded an opportunity to explore and map the geography of the West.
During his lifetime he was a hunter, explorer, scout, Indian agent, rancher (actually a partner with Lucien Maxwell in a ranch at Rayado, south of Cimarron), soldier and national hero.
Carson died in 1868, one month after his wife.
Carson’s home is now a museum which is located about two blocks east of the Plaza.
It was built in 1825 and bought by Carson in 1843 when he married Josefa Jaramillo, daughter of a leading Taos family.
It’s said he bought the house as a wedding gift for his bride.
Most of their eight children were born there.
On a more modern note, just north of the Plaza on Paseo Pueblo del Norte is a place, Michael’s Kitchen, which serves a wonderful breakfast and has freshly made baked goods.
Well worth a visit. South of Taos and south of the town of Embudo is Black Mesa Winery.
They have tastings for five dollars.
You can sample six wines and keep your Black Mesa glass.
The wines are excellent.
At least I thought so.
Eagle Nest is a small town just north of Angel Fire with several fun places to stop and shop if you’re so inclined.
A couple of our favorites include Zella’s kitchen, the Eagle Feather Trading Post and Eye of the Eagle.
Zella’s has great fruit spreads and fruit butters plus kitchen gadgets.
The Eagle Feather Trading Post has lots of other tourist stuff and most of it is pretty good quality.
Eye of the Eagle has great jewelry and is one of my wife’s favorite shops.
More on New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle next week.