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 Cimarron’s rowdy early days as evidenced by the 26 murders (most committed in "self-defense," of course) and over 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.
Northeastern New Mexico, the Enchanted Circle – Part 2
Located over Bobcat Pass just 18 miles from Eagle Nest is the town of Red River. Spectacularly located in a narrow valley between mountains with a small but frigid river flowing through it, Red River is a tourist’s delight. With a plethora of shops one can find just about anything touristy they want. Clothes, liquor, food, fishing equipment, and wood carvings of bears are just a few examples.
During the winter the slopes are full of skiers and the hotels are full of people. Summer offers a lot of activities as well. There are hundreds of miles of marked trails for hiking, mountain biking and other challenging treks for those so inclined. There are jeep rentals to take you into the mountains on day trips, or you can rent one and drive yourself.
In its younger days Red River was not so tame. It was the site of many battles between the Ute and Jicarilla Apaches who roamed the area and the nearby Pueblos until the Utes and Apaches were moved to reservations in 1876. Fur-bearing game attracted trappers in the early 1800s with prospectors following in the 1860s encouraged by the nearby Elizabethtown gold rush. Red River’s population exploded with "gold fever" and the "get-rich-quick" mentality.
Precious metal mines operated in the town and surrounding area until 1925. The molybdenum mine is still in operation because of the mineral’s importance as a hardening and strengthening agent for steel.
In 1905, Red River had a population of 3,000 along with 15 saloons, four hotels, two newspapers, a barber shop, a hospital, a sawmill, and an active red light district. When mining failures became commonplace, Red River became a ghost town, then came back to life briefly around 1912 when some mining began again.
It was in the 1920s tourists escaping the dust bowl started frequenting the beautiful location and cool temperatures that its future began to look brighter. With the addition of tourist cabins, a grocery store and some gas pumps the future was established.
Now people flock to the beautiful scenery, excellent climate, skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting, sightseeing and shopping. Ski lifts operate during the summer to take people to the top of the mountain where spectacular views abound, then return them safely to the bottom.
Approximately 90 miles south of Red River is New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe. It’s one of the oldest capital cities in North America and also the oldest European city west of the Mississippi. Founded in 1607, the site was first claimed for Spain by conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540. Prior to that the area was occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages.
Pueblo Indians revolted against the approximately 2,500 Spanish colonists, killing 400 of them and driving the rest back to Mexico. Santa Fe’s buildings were mostly burned, except the Palace of the Governors. Don Diego de Vargas reconquered the region in 1692.
Santa Fe grew and prospered after that in spite of the pressure Spanish authorities and missionaries were under from constant Indian raids and bloody wars with the Comanche.
In 1821 to 1846 Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Santa Fe became the capital of the province of New Mexico. American trappers and traders moved into the region and the 1000 mile-long Santa Fe Trail was opened by William Becknell.
In 1847, two years after an American army general, Stephen Watts Kearney, took Santa Fe and raised the American flag over the Plaza, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo giving New Mexico (including what is now Arizona) and California to the United States.
If you visit Santa Fe be sure and visit the Loretto Chapel and see in person what is called the "Miraculous Staircase," believed to be built by St. Joseph himself. Considering the primitive tools and materials available back then it is certainly a wonder regardless of who the craftsman was who built it. The spiral staircase has no center support, makes two 360 degree turns, is said to be made without nails, yet goes up to the choir loft some twenty feet above.
One final stop should be made on this trip. Bandelier National Monument is just north of Santa Fe near the town of Los Alamos, home of the nuclear lab and site of the construction of the first atomic bomb.
Bandelier is a place whose history traces back over 10,000 years when nomadic hunter-gatherers followed wildlife across these mesas and canyons.
In 1880 Adolph Bandelier visited the area and proclaimed it "the grandest thing I ever saw." In 1916 legislation to create Bandelier National Monument was signed by President Woodrow Wilson.
Bandelier has two main trails one must hike. The first follows along the south side of Firjoles Creek and after a hike of about 1.25 miles there is a view of the Upper Falls, which are rather hidden and in shadow most of the day. Then the trail starts to descend more steeply and crosses the stream shortly above the Lower Falls. A short distance further is the confluence with the Rio Grande.
The other trail takes one through cliff dwellings and building sites such as the Long House. It is a 1.2 mile predominately paved loop trial where one can view a shelter cave produced by erosion and a reconstructed kiva that can only be entered by climbing a long ladder.
I hope these narratives encourage you to visit this beautiful and historic part of our nation. It’s my firm belief that if you do you will love it.
Next time, as previously promised, some history on Lucien B. Maxwell.