Angel Fire and Eagle Nest are two closely-connected towns a bit farther than three hours from Albuquerque (via Las Vegas and Mora, or via Taos). These two very much alive towns, as well as the quaint “ghost town” of Elizabeth Town and the unincorporated mountain area of Black Lake, are all in the wide Moreno Valley of New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle in the Sangre de Cristo mountain region east of Taos and south of Red River.
The 8,400 feet elevation here (much higher on the ski-slopes and mountainsides) can cause breathing challenges even for travelers from mile-high Albuquerque or even higher Santa Fe. It’s best to schedule a day or two of rest on arrival to adjust before attempting vigorous exercise like mountain biking or distance hiking.
Activities, attractions and accommodations tend to overlap between Angel Fire and Eagle Nest. Both visitors and locals travel back and forth between them, often daily. What one town may lack, the other may well have. We’ve lived in the area long enough to be considered “regulars” if not “locals” and we’ve found the best of country life here–privacy with space to enjoy nature along with friendly, helpful neighbors. Herds of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and the occasional black bear or mountain lion wander through these towns and the surrounding open lands. Ravens, hawks, eagles, Stellar jays and hummingbirds are common sights. Eagle Nest Lake even hosts a resident flock of pelicans.
Fishing is very good in Angel Fire Resort’s small but well-stocked lake, at much larger Eagle Nest Lake and along the Cimarron River just to the east. Trout are abundant and pike and other game fish also are waiting to be caught. In-season hunting is also a major attraction on public lands in these mountains but please observe posted No Trespassing signs. Do be careful around wild animals. They can be unpredictable if frightened or if protecting their young. Don’t chase or approach elk or deer. And carrying a can of bear-repellent spray is a good idea.
Here’s some history. Stunning sunrise and sunset colors gave Angel Fire its name when indigenous Ute people envisioned “the fire of the gods” and later Franciscan friars saw “the fire of the angels.” Angel Fire is a fairly young town. It was started as an intentional resort in 1965 and the town was incorporated in 1986. The Angel Fire Resort remains the largest property owner here and provides amenities to residents and visitors, including a beautiful golf course, a ski mountain with lifts and a gondola, hiking and biking trails, zip lines, tennis courts, paddle-boating and restaurants. The popular place to be on a Friday evening in summer is downtown Angel Fire’s Frontier Park with its free concerts that feature professional musical acts ranging from country stars Slim Balkey to bluesman Rudy Boy to salsa band Jackie Zamora and Baracutanga.
Speaking of music, the world-famous Music From Angel Fire late-summer annual classical music concert series has its headquarters here, and many performances take place in Angel Fire venues and in nearby Taos, Las Vegas and Raton. This year, the festival runs from August 18 to September 3. For a full slate of performances by renowned musicians, check here: musicfromangelfire.org
Angel Fire’s wide valley and airport also present Balloons Over Angel Fire in the second week of August, a wonderful, free, three-day celebration event. And the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the north end of Angel Fire is a beautiful park to visit anytime. Veterans of all America’s wars are honored there by a lovely hillside commemorative display building.
Eagle Nest (formerly known as Therma), some 12 miles north of Angel Fire on U.S. Highway 64, lies between New Mexico’s two highest mountains: Baldy and Wheeler Peak. The town has an authentic Old West feel; it was established in Gold Rush days back in the 1880s. It has a most colorful history, including illegal gambling parlors, bootleg-whiskey saloons and notoriously frequent, lethal gunfights—advertised as tourist attractions– back in its rowdier 1930s days. The shootouts are rare nowadays, but the infamous El Monte, established in 1898, is now called the Laguna Vista Resort and still operates a saloon, restaurant and hotel with great views of the lake. Boat rentals and fishing guided tours are readily available.
Eagle Nest also offers Cowboy song and culture festivals, gala holiday parades and, when permissible, fireworks displays.
Black Lake is a heavily-forested unincorporated area south of Angel Fire. It consists of ranches, an upscale housing development, steep, winding, unpaved dead-end roads and semi-isolated homesteads. The television movies Lonesome Dove and Open Range were shot partially in Black Lake. And the abandoned but very historically interesting—and allegedly haunted “ghost town” of Elizabeth Town (E-town) is just 5 miles north of Eagle Nest. The gunfighter Clay Allison and other outlaws are said to have hung out there during E-town’s heydays. Guided or self-guided trips there are fun for the imagination and highly recommended.
Among them, Angel Fire and Eagle Nest boast a wide variety of hotels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and food trucks. Steaks, burgers, Thai cuisine, vegetarian, fish, Mexican and New Mexican foods, pizza and many snacks are available. For delicious vegan food I highly recommend the Plant Base Café located in the former location of Eske’s Brewpub in Taos, a pleasant drive just west of the Moreno Valley.
Angel Fire and Eagle Nest have two fine breweries: Enchanted Circle and Comanche Creek, respectively. And Zeb’s Saloon in Angel Fire (currently undergoing renovations) is a true Western dining and drinking experience, not to be missed, especially on a Friday night.
Do come visit us in northern New Mexico’s beautiful Moreno Valley, anytime of the year. You will be welcome and you will not be disappointed.