Northeastern New Mexico, the enchanted circle
Part 2 of 3
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 Eliz-abethtown 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.